For Fans Of
Considering it’s been roughly eight years between new albums from the band, you’d be forgiven for wondering if Chicago punks The Lawrence Arms have “still got it” on sixth studio album ‘Metropole’. While each member has kept relatively busy in the meantime – Brendan Kelly and Chris McCaughan embarking on primarily solo endeavours and drummer Neil Hennessy being enlisted into The Smoking Popes – touring has slowed down somewhat for the trio over the past few years. Would the chemistry still be there upon hitting the studio? Fans can take a long sigh of relief. On ‘Metropole’, The Lawrence Arms sound, well, exactly that – like The Lawrence Arms, albeit a little older, a little wiser and (not too much, thank God) a little more mature.
What exactly do The Lawrence Arms sound like, though? While they’ve obviously fallen under the general banner of “punk rock” since their inception, the band has always kept a fairly large scope musically. This is something that’s never been clearer than on album six. In a lot of ways, ‘Metropole’ manages to encapsulate almost everything that’s great about the Lawrence Arms‘ back catalogue through a varied collection of tracks that’s sprawling sonically, while coherent thematically – kind of like a ‘best of’, but with brand new songs. Tracks like ‘Seventeener’ and ‘Beautiful Things’ have as many instantly memorable hooks and choruses as anything on ‘Apathy and Exhaustion’, the likes of ‘You Are Here’ and ‘Never Fade Away’ feel like follow-ups to ’The Greatest Story Ever Told’, and the breakneck fury of ‘Oh! Calcutta!’ is briefly revisited in all its foul-mouthed, beer-soaked glory on ‘Drunk Tweets’. With almost a decade to look back on just what it means to be The Lawrence Arms, it’s little wonder that the album’s as strong as it is, building on a legacy that’s seen them become one of the most idiosyncratic and subtly genius punk bands of the past decade and a half.
They do, however, push some fairly new ground on the album. For one, the interplay of dual vocalists McCaughan and Kelly feels more natural and balanced than ever before. The tendency in the past has been for the former to voice the more reserved numbers while Kelly’s gravelly pipes have fronted the more raucous and rambunctious. This divide isn’t so wide this time around – especially given that Kelly, for the most part, tones down the outright snarl for a far more sombre tone. It fits in with a lot of what’s going on elsewhere, perhaps most notably on the grimly titled ‘The YMCA Down the Street from the Clinic’.
Lyrically, themes of coming to terms with growing older are underpinned by an atmosphere of isolation amidst a crowded urban environment. The Lawrence Arms have always nailed the conflation of subject matter that’s kind of a fucking bummer delivered with anthemic punk vigour and a hint of optimism, and this album’s no different. “Outside my window the train is a friend just zipping by” repeats McCaughan on ‘You Are Here’, and this feeling of being left alone while the rest of the world rushes past is a consistent motif. “I was born and I died / and just a moment went by” is both the first and last sentence sung on either side of the album, bookending a record drenched in the kind of endearing, poignant introspection that’s been the band’s trademark for as long as I can remember.
For a lot of people – not least of all, the band themselves – there was some doubt about whether or not The Lawrence Arms would ever record another album. We should all be goddamned thrilled they did, though. ‘Metropole’ serves not only as an instant classic filled to the brim with tracks that stand proudly on their own merits, but another vital piece of the Larry Arms story that serves as a welcome reintroduction to one of punk’s most timeless acts. Let’s hope it’s not so long between drinks next time.
1. Chilean District
2. You Are Here
3. Hickey Avenue
4. Seventeener (17th and 37th)
5. Beautiful Things
6. Acheron River
8. Drunk Tweets
9. The YMCA Down the Street from the Clinic
10. Never Fade Away
11. Paradise Shitty
12. October Blood