Before I sat down to write this review I replayed Cities over and over under the delusion that if I listened to it enough times maybe I could shake the feeling that I was being cheated. The moment Cities dropped into my mailbox I could feel the excitement coming off me in waves. I was thrilled merely ogling it in its hot plastic casing, yet as soon as I set my ears on Cities I felt like I wanted nothing to do with it.
Now let’s get a few facts straight. Anberlin are one of my favorite bands in the world and I was all over Never Take Friendship Personal like fashion on Rodeo Drive, but someplace between Cites and NTFP, Anberlin went too ‘Pop and Technicolor’ for my tastes. That said Cities is not a bad album by a long shot. However, it stops way short on being one of my favorites. Where Never Take Friendship Personal came across as a poetic take on aggression, Cities confuses me with its continuous tightwalk between unnecessarily artificial and heartbreakingly honest.
With its snarling technical guitars and call and answer style vocals, ‘Godspeed’ reminds me most of Anberlin’s NTFP days. ‘Adelaide,’ meanwhile, could be the next radio/TRL hit waiting to happen. ‘Dismantle. Repair’ is another one of my favorites, painting a vivid story through its lyrical vignettes and harmonic guitar chords. And arguably closer ‘*fin’ does something magically with its chamber choral vocals acting like an invocation of child angels. However, that is where the buck ends as ‘A Whisper & A Clamor,’ while boasting a powerful message, starts lacking a particular energy and ends with even less gas. Acoustic ballad ‘The Unwinding Cable Car’ is a lyrical gem and vocal pleasantry, but quickly degrades into something musically repetitive and lackluster. And forgive me if this offends anyone, but the synth elements of ‘There Is No Mathematics To Love And Loss’ and ‘Reclusion’ are actually slightly irritating to me. Overall, a solid portion of this album struck me as boring and I felt much more compelled to skip tracks here than I ever did during NTFP.
While some would argue this album tests far more musical boundaries than anything Anberlin have offered in the past, I feel as though the band took the concept of unfetteredness too liberally. Older is not synonymous with better, and in some cases going from a state of good to amazing means getting worse first. Like my dad likes to say when he fixes things, “Julie, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.” And for me that’s totally fine. Just because people want Cities to be a step up from NTFP, it doesn’t mean it is. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think Anberlin are a better band now than they were 2 years ago. Christian’s voice is more dynamic than ever, YoungÃƒ¢Ã¢”š¬Ã¢”ž¢s drumming has improved ten-fold, and Aaron Sprinkle has once again proven why he’s one of the best producers in the scene. In spite of this, something about Cities seems distractingly hit and miss and highly inconsistent.
To make a specific point of this, let me reference Thrice’s 2006 concept album Vheissu. The Artist and the Ambulance found Thrice at the pinnacle of their fanbase and acclaim, yet Vheissu came out of nowhere with it’s unusual un-Thrice sound and left fans feeling more than a little unsatisfied. While the band was as musically apt as ever, Vheissu was not their best album to date. With Thrice’s new 4 element concept album in the works, I’d like to think they have taken the criticism of Vheissu and applied it their new approach, but only time will tell. Likewise, I hope Anberlin will come to realize the missteps taken on Cities and use that to justify creating an album that shine, uplifts, and enthralls from start to finish.
Want the sentence version of this review? Pick up Cities for an above-average tromp through the lyrical stanza’s of Stephan Christian and musical refrains of Joseph Milligan. But if you want substance, staying power, AND sing-along quality go pick up or rediscover 2005’s Never Take Friendship Personal.
4. A Whisper And A Clamor
5. The Unwinding Cable Car
6. There Is No Mathematics To Love And Loss
7. Hello Alone
11. Dismantle. Repair.
Godspeed, Adelaide, (*Fin), Dismantle. Repair