Popularity can be a mixed bag for a band. With mass acceptance often comes a form of indentured servitude, with each entitled fan expecting the band to continue his or her personal notion of the band's trajectory, even if that trajectory is effectively standing still.
Moody pop-punksters Alkaline Trio have been butting heads with that particular demon over the course of their last few releases, which have been met with a consistent salvo of boo-hooing from longtime fans who complain that the AT of Agony and Irony isn't the same as the AT of fan-favorite debut Goddamnit!
Of course, as the band grew in prominence, new fans jumped on each album's bandwagon. With less history, these new fans encouraged AT, even as the band moved from the raw, throaty, heart rending vitality of its earliest work to encompass a more polished, pop friendly sound. Soon, Matt Skiba and company found themselves lodged between the adulations of fans weaned on the more mature, even-handed sound of albums like 2005's Crimson
, and the bitter nostalgia of lifers who seem to want nothing more than a reworking of the band's debut.
, released late last month, is like Alkaline Trio's Rosetta Stone, offering a common language for interpreting the band's catalogue thus far, with enough diction borrowed from both old and new Alkaline Trio to please both ends of its fan base.
Releasing the album on the band's own brand new, Epitaph-based Heart and Skull imprint allowed Alkaline Trio the freedom to craft the album entirely in its own image, without an "A&R man breathing down our necks," says Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba. The result is an album that feels at once like a tightly controlled distillation of the band's history, and like a reset of sorts.
"I think it's a bit of a culmination. It's its own thing, but I think it's very representative of the band; where we're at now, but also of where we've been", says Skiba.