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Millennials, Gen Y’s, and Zoomers are the generations to witness the end of the “American Dream.” Or for those outside the U.S., the end to the fantasy that hard work alone will ensure you’re better off than those who came before you. For those not lucky enough to be born with daddy’s money, and for potential homeowners whose investments aren’t subsidised by their folks (insulting fluff pieces like this), the cruel reality is that as anti-establishment single ‘Broken Dreams Inc‘ made so brutally clear, you’re left to fight and fend for your lonesome self with nowhere to go. Told to plan out your life a certain way, in order to attain success and stability, even though that isn’t guaranteed. This is where Rise Against’s ninth album, ‘Nowhere Generation,’ makes it stand about inter-generational disparity and instability, partly inspired by the input of the four band members’ children and their younger fans.
“Today there is the promise of the American Dream, and then there is the reality of the American Dream. America’s ‘historical norm’ that the next generation will be better off than the one that came before has been diminished by an era of mass social, economic, and political instability and a sell-out of the Middle Class. The brass ring that was promised by hard work and dedication no longer exists for everyone. When the privileged climb the ladder of success and then burn it from the top, disruption becomes the only answer.” – singer Tim McIlrath.
The cover art to ‘Nowhere Generation‘, 16 monitors stacked atop one another, reflects those three aforementioned generations brought up during the internet and modern technological era. That it’s through the screens of T.V. and our smart devices that these demographics see the future going up in figurative and literal flames. Yet it’s through those same screens and devices that we will resist and make our voices heard. The global BLM protests last year that were in response to endless police brutality and racial profiling were spread and organised via the tools of social media. You can even see this kind of action today in 2021 with TikTok, and the hard-left informative side of the app that’s only getting bigger and louder, speaking truth to power to those who might never hear it.
Through 11 mostly good songs, Rise Against rage about no longer feeling like we’re represented at the table; like you’re no longer spoken for by public servants and institutions. As the album’s insanely hooky fourth song details, our generations are stuck talking to ourselves and not being listened to, so extreme measures are taken. This is a melodic, catchy punk rock LP about the total eradication of the middle-class, how classism is the driving force of our social divides. In 2020, during a global pandemic, the Jeff Bezo’s and Elon Musk’s grew richer, despite most Americans being a single paycheck away from poverty and destitution, studies as recent as 2018 and 2019 suggest. Losers who never paid attention to Tim’s lyrics will have their dumb “when did this band get so political!?” moment, just to be laughed at by the rest of us who have spent the better half of our lives following this Chicago band’s output. In terms of the message behind ‘Nowhere Generation,’ it’s one of the more socially relevant records of 2021.
When it comes to Rise Against, I love ’em. Yet their last two records felt like self-parody, like the gas in their tanks for burning punk rock had run dry. The introspective ‘Black Market‘ (2014) was average at best, held back by being a recycled experience of better, older Rise Against moments. Whereas ‘Wolves‘ (2017) was a thematically relevant but toothless listen, a band craving social change but refusing to change or challenge themselves with their music. ‘Nowhere Generation‘ is not some out-of-left-field record, but it does resist with a stronger dynamic than its two weaker predecessors, marking the first time in ten years since the incredible ‘Endgame‘ that I’ve felt even remotely interested and excited by a new Rise Against record. It has its lesser moments, of course, but overall, I’m happy to just have actually felt something when listening to new material from Tim (who sounds the best he has in years), bassist Joe Principe, drummer Brandon Barnes, and guitarist Zach Blair.
This is a Rise Against album. In all of their jangly, closely-adhered-to chord progressions, how they structure their songs, high tempo palm-mutes and strums, backing-vocal chants and harmonies they’ve been doing since before I was even in my teens, and Bill Stevenson’s as-per-usual crisp production detailing the record. I expected all of these ticked boxes long before I pressed play on ‘Nowhere Generation’; it’s just how Rise Against are. Though on this latest entry in their lengthy career, it feels the most fired up it’s been in a fucking decade. While I’m not fully in love with it, I’m gonna take that win!
I felt that right away with ‘The Numbers’, a power-to-the-proletariat anthem, fittingly starting out with a sample of the Russian translated (originally French) workers-unite piece, L’Internationale. This being situated at the opening was a stroke of genius; it’s an attention-grabbing first movement before they turn on their punk rock engines. It’s like Orwell’s Animal Farm picked up a guitar and wrote a fist-punching punk thesis. For someone like myself, who has felt jaded and disenchanted with Rise Against’s output after ‘Endgame,’ ‘The Numbers’ makes me feel like a young boy again. Like I’m discovering Rise Against for the first time, invigorated by the variety of sections, impressive choruses, and the timely messages of class-warfare revolt.
‘Sudden Urge’ is the most rock’n’roll song Rise Against have ever written, and it’s not half bad. Delayed guitar washes and bass-driving verses filter through as Tim sings of burning down institutions “like the Fourth of July” and saving, hopefully reforming, those smouldering ashes into something better. It’s a metaphor for wanting to burn it all down but also wanting progress to step forward from the rubble. The title song is a cutesy, Kumbia punk piece, some easy rock radio cannon fodder. While a little tired and simple, it comes from a wholesome place so I can’t be too mad at it.
I previously mentioned ‘Talking To Ourselves‘ as an “insanely hooky” song, and once those choruses worm their way deep into your brain like some kind of Rise Against-branded social conditioning, you’ll see what I mean. Some will call it the poppiest song of the album, but really, these guys have always had a pop through-line running below the surface of their songwriting. It’s part of their success and it comes out the loudest, the hardest, on ‘Talking To Ourselves.’ As for ‘Broken Dreams Inc,’ originally released as a single for DC Comics, it’s like a long lost relic of Rise’s output circa 2004-2006, with some of the most gripping and chilling verses of the entire album. It’s a fantastic example of how this band writes melodies, how they work their magic with the keys they stick within, and how they capture a tension-release dynamic between the choruses and the rest of the composition. Not a new classic for them, you can’t deny that it’s solid, showing a renewed fire lit under their collective butt cheeks.
‘Forfeit’ is a mid-album acoustic turnaround, a ballad complete with some tasteful strings adding a dramatic, larger sense of scope. It’s fine, but it sure ain’t no ‘Swing Life Away‘ or ‘Hero Of War.’ Shooting off in the complete opposite direction is the decent ‘Monarch’, a breakneck punk rock track that is the most utterly generic “Rise Against sounding” song of the lot, with the kind of bridge they’ve written at least a dozen times before now. But ya know what? It’s still fun! (‘Monarch‘ is dotted by a short-lived but remorseful guitar solo for a nice little moment that I just wish went further.)
‘Sounds Like’ is basically the same more or less, just with some extra emphasis on Joe’s bass playing and tom-rolling half-time refrains, so I won’t waste much of our time on it. It’s about empty words, about “thoughts and prayers”, about inaction on the part of government and the people in charge of keeping us safe. And that’s its most interesting aspect. The agro riff-laden bridge after the second chorus in ‘Sooner Or Later’ is the most hardcore thing Rise Against have written in god knows how long – Tim briefly screaming too. Like most of the cooler ideas they opt into, it’s over almost as quickly as it began. This speaks to my biggest issue with this album: the band have all of this talent but their variety and genius only manifest in such brief moments that don’t really go anywhere, to instead tug the line of what fans expect of them. I hope this changes one day, but like full-blown societal reform, I don’t have much hope.
‘Middle Of A Dream‘ is middle of the road more than anything and ‘Rules of Play’ is the usual Rise closer, acting as a lyrical summarization of the album’s theme of generational unification pushing back against the stacked game before them. ‘Nowhere Generation‘ does lose steam come these final moments. Not because they’re bad songs, but they’re just such familiar, expected songs that it all feels relatively routine; a little stale. Which is disappointing considering how the LP began in a far stronger fashion some ten songs earlier.
After two of their three records released during the 2010s felt so lacklustre, it’s refreshing, elevating, to hear Rise Against kicking off a new decade with a decent, if familiar and imperfect return to form. I know it, you know it, we all know it: this is a Rise Against record through and through in style, production and songwriting. For better and for worse. Yet there’s a hot new flame kindled in the engaging likes of the power-to-the-people ‘The Numbers,’ the uplifting ‘Talking To Ourselves,’ and the tension-release of ‘Broken Dreams Inc’ that make this latest punk rock people-power anthem worth it. ‘Nowhere Generation’ is unapologetically timely, embodying three generations who feel unheard, overlooked and left behind when it comes to climate and economic stability of the future that they will endure instead of the decision-makers, filthy rich CEO’s and politicians who will die before the ramifications of those actions come due. The future is bleak but it is also unwritten, and it’s high time for us all to band together to help make it an equal, brighter reality. Rise Against’s latest body of work is a reminder of that cause.
Talking To Ourselves
Broken Dreams Inc.
Sooner Or Later
Middle of a Dream
Rules of Play
‘Nowhere Generation’ is out Friday, June 4th.