Its crazy how many bands have reunited lately. If youd asked me a few years ago what Id be listening to in 2007, I never wouldve guessed the new Lifetime and American Steel records.
But Im not complaining, because in my eyes American Steel did no wrong. (And the Lifetime reunion album is so good.) The last American Steel LP, Jagged Thoughts, was the best record the band ever made, a literal rainy day gem full of dynamite, instantly memorable songs. It should've been huge. But theres also no doubt that it was different, straying pretty far from the band's Gilman Street dumpster-pop roots: Jagged Thoughts sounded more like The Pogues or late period Clash (except way, way better) than Crimpshrine.
Destroy Their Future, American Steels comeback record, purports to offer the best of both worlds: the band has returned to the headlong punk rock of their earlier material, but without abandoning the polish and nuance that characterized Jagged Thoughts. Of course, such attempts to have it both ways usually blow up like a failed chemistry experiment; most bands who try to go back to their roots while stubbornly clutching to their maturity end up losing sight of both.
American Steel almost pull it off. The songwriting falls closer to Rogues March than anything on Jagged Thoughts, but the band also sounds smoother than ever: vocalist Rory Hendersons throat has never been clearer, and even the most roaring numbers have a lot of subtlety to them. Theres also plenty of variety, with acoustic guitars and accordion cropping up amidst songs that pinball between major and minor keys, and lyrics that strike personal and political notes with equal force - although not always with much elegance, as the anti-religious vitriol of Razorblades feels more than a bit overwrought. Still, its hard not to smile at lines like Let me be clear, Ive a mean streak my dear / Everyone that I meet I wanna punch in the ear / Except you.
It seems like classic American Steel on the surface. But something falls flat: these songs dont hit as hard as Rotting or Loaded Gun, but they also fall short of the broken glass beauty of Jagged Thoughts. Destroy Their Future feels over-determined in a way that the earlier records never did: despite their vast stylistic differences, the first three American Steel records had a tossed-off sense about them, a casual brilliance thats much harder to spot here. And the band sounds more downbeat and defeated than ever on this record - their trademark shattered music note logo (which adorns the cover) has never seemed more appropriate.
The problem is that Destroy Their Future is hardly a bad record, and its a lot harder to hear a merely decent album from a band thats conditioned you to expect greatness. I listened to Destroy Their Future feeling underwhelmed, but your results may vary. I can imagine plenty of American Steel fans being perfectly satisfied with this, especially those that didnt like the road taken on Jagged Thoughts. And if nothing else, this record should clue people in on where Against Me! got their sound: take two parts American Steel, add one part (Young) Pioneers (who they were gracious enough to namedrop on Reinventing Axl Rose) and 1/2 cup Billy Bragg; mix well, feeds 5,000. If Destroy Their Future helps this great, perennially overlooked band get the attention they deserve, then that just might be enough.
6.5 / 10
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