Revisiting Crimson by Alkaline Trio

Cards on the table. I’m a Matt Skiba acolyte. I’m a worshipper at the alter of the lyricist in black.

The last few weeks have been thoroughly enjoyable because he’s been everywhere, revelling in blink-182’s rebirth alongside part-time cohort and long-time friend Mark Hoppus.

I’m not a Blink guy. A brief adolescent dabble in the questionable pseudo-delights of Enema Of The State and Take Of Your Pants And Jacket quickly passed and Hoppus, Tom DeLonge and Travis Barker disappeared off my radar.

No such luck for Skiba. Alkaline Trio, the band with whom he made his name, have been part of my regular rotation for the best part of 15 years. Matt Skiba And The Sekrets, a side-project that’s more chilled in terms of sound but deceptively intense, is quickly joining them.

Thanks to Skiba’s welcome presence on television this summer I’ve chosen one of Alkaline Trio’s records to kick off ‘Revisiting…’, a regular new feature here on The Decayist.

alkaline_trioAlkaline Trio
Vagrant Records

Alkaline Trio formed in 1996 and achieved international fame in 2001 when From Here To Infirmary divided critics but generated legions of new fans. The ‘Stupid Kid’ single took hold on UK rock television. When I heard ‘Private Eye’ I was sold.

Four years later guitarist/vocalist Skiba, bassist/vocalist Dan Andriano and drummer Derek Grant unleashed Crimson, the fifth Alkaline Trio album. I listened to it a lot but I hadn’t listened from front to back for several years. Although I will defend it to the hilt, it’s important to acknowledge that this album is not without its flaws.

There’s a definite lull at the start of the second half but in that lull lies the true genius of this band. Even in the weaker songs on Crimson the powerful choruses, undeniable vocal hooks and devastatingly deft lyrics are present. This is the Alkaline Trio DNA.

Album number five has a big finish but it’s the first half that makes it a landmark in the canon. ‘Time To Waste’ and ‘Burn’ are bona fide classic Alkaline Trio singles and ‘Dethbed’, ‘Settle For Satin’ and ‘Sadie’ form a three-song run that displays maturity as a straight-up rock band.

The second Crimson single was ‘Mercy Me’, a uniquely delivered song no other band could have made and one that destroys any ideas about Alkaline Trio’s music being predictable.

This album is catchy, brilliantly written, even uplifting. Yet through it all there’s a constant bleakness. The pictures painted by Skiba’s words are cinematic. Few lyricists can achieve the effect Skiba can have on the imagination of the listener.

This modern gothic aesthetic is infused with punk throughout Alkaline Trio’s discography but Crimson is a rock record. The gothic twang is utterly vital to its appeal and yet the way it’s weaved through the songs is as delicate as it is effective.

The result is a suave, idiosyncratic rock album loaded with gloom. From Andriano’s vocal on ‘The Poison’ to the thinly-veiled vituperation of ‘Your Neck’ this album is Alkaline Trio at their most polished.

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Chris Nee