US - New York - Full Moon 126 - 01/03/07
The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me
Naming emo's best wordsmith is a more worthwhile compliment than it sounds. Not simply because there are so many bland melodrama mongers, but just that there are simply... so many. Keeping your finger on top of the stacking number of crying dynamos while trying to keep on top of the rest of the industry - especially since it's a genre that has transcended (some might use the word "infected" but I'm not one of them) other territories. To the optimist, quantity has a quality all its own. As for the pessimists, remember that there are even fewer screaming, tweeny fans of Panic! At the Disco than mohawked NOFX followers that are willing to call them punk rather than the radio-shack-keyboard-radio-pop they really are. Even those haters must admit that for all the moments that Panic! makes you cringe sonically, there's a solid horizon of lyrical fortresses they assault, however excessively.
Brand New's master and commander, Jesse Lacey, for his vain advance on good and evil on this new album, is the most worthy challenger (or condemned soul) for the title of emo's best lyricist. The appearance of "God" on the album title and "Jesus Christ" in the track listing are words that are as foreign to the everyday ex-Blink-182 fan as they were to the late sixties DJ who got a "God Only Knows" single in the mail with a hand written note from Brian Wilson reading "Pleeeaaaasssseeee Play Me!" written in chicken scratch. This doesn't make Lacey a refurbished Morrissey, a fortunate Scott Stapp, a resurrected JP II, or even a forgotten Wilson brother-his adventures through heaven and hell die out with the same speed he outgrows summer parties and keg stands.
He also goes about his job absolutely (and thankfully) ignoring the recent rise and plateaus of Fall Out Boy and P!ATD. If there is any new direction on The Devil and God it's in response to all the kids crying that Brand New's must-have 2003 album, Deja Entendu, is the new Pinkerton. Punk in 2006 is still punk, and it sounds the same as punk did in 2003: with all the Weezer-style, crunchy riffs and acoustical breaks to talk about how frightening it is to sleep with someone and forget to ask for their first name. For Lacey, and probably no one else, this is refreshing and actually shocking. Often a whining teen's moral backbone is lost in the post high school rush of new amazing substances-and if you line hundreds of them in a row to hear them cry at you're your attention tends to favor the one in the corner, muttering something about good old JC.
Well Jesus Christ I'm not scared to die
I'm a little bit scared of what comes after.
Do I get the gold chariot?
Do I float through the ceiling?
Or do I divide?
Although these questions from the excellent "Jesus Christ" have been asked about a million times before (and by more worthy philosophers) Lacey is the first one of his kind to ask them to a mostly apathetic or agnostic audience. That alone makes him the most compelling sophist surrounded by literally hundreds of kids aiming for just being cute. What's even ballsier about Lacey is that he tries to basically recreate his fans' favorite album, and nearly succeeds. Like Deja Entendu, The Devil and God kicks off hard, retracts like a disturbed test animal, and then spends the rest of an hour trying to sustain the same panic-button fervor. Remarkably (and this is something very few could pull off) The Devil and God fares well in the regurgitation. Not as well as it's predecessor, but well nonetheless.
As familiar as this record is, there are a few new faces to Brand New here. In a fantasy world of influences it could be said that TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe hides in the freakish choir of "Degausser" and his elder David Bowie appears in the introductory verse of "Not The Sun" through Lacey's vocal performance. Yet of all his previous fixations, gone are the screamo linings that made "Sic Transit Gloria...Glory Fades" such an anthem. He also still finds time to make his usual tribute to the Smiths on "The Archer's Bows are Broken".
At least he's not letting all this go to his head: "I used to be such a burning example/I used to be so original" he whispers on "Millstone". Even for not moving too far from familiar grounds, don't worry Jesse, you are still both.
Copyright © 2007 Matthew DeMello