ARTIST: THE USED
LABEL: BIG NOISE/HASSLE RECORDS
WORDS: BECTON SIMPSON
“Walking with the fire, covered in flames, I’ma come out a survivor,” Bert McCracken sings on the chorus of ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ a cut off The Used’s eighth studio album ‘Heartwork’. And considering some of the stuff he’s been through in his life, that’s a pretty fair statement. The Used are survivors too. They’re a band who’ve stayed the course for twenty years now and they’re still finding new, fresh ways to put across their music.
2017’s ‘The Canyon’ was a totally different record to this one – more of a personal project that Bert admitted he needed to get out. ‘Heartwork’ has the cohesive wholeness of a The Used record. And if you’ve followed the trajectory of this band’s career, it’s easy to see why they recently reverted back to their old logo and brought back the ‘In Love And Death’ hanging heart motif. Aside from the two main singles ‘Blow Me’ and ‘Paradise Lost’ which both have hallmarks of classic old school The Used style sound, tracks such as ‘The Lottery’ sonically hark back to their early days with some heavy guitar work courtesy of latest Used family member Joey Bradford. Dirty, urgent and yet with complex structures, melodies and featuring an excellent appearance from Beartooth’s Caleb Shomo, ‘The Lottery’ has an evil breakdown around the 2 minute mark which is probably going to be intense live. ‘Darkness Bleeds’ is another heavy one with some big ‘Artwork’ vibes which carry on The Used legacy neatly. But this isn’t simply an album of rehashed old sounds and styles with a two-decade old band revisiting some of their classic vibes. This is probably the most unusual and experimental album from this band you’re likely to have heard thus far.
“probably the most unusual and experimental album from this band you’re likely to have heard thus far”
The one-minute dreamy interlude of ‘My Cocoon’ leads neatly into the more up-tempo groovy pop vibes of ‘Cathedral Bell’, perfectly introducing the listener to this new, fresh sound of The Used. Undoubtedly there’s going to be some old school traditional punk fans of the band who can’t get behind this new sound but perhaps this line is for them – I can’t move, like I’m stuck in the mud, I’m up to my neck he sings on ‘Cathedral Bell’. Stuck-in-the-muds need not apply and despite Bert’s lyrics this is a more modern, slicker band adapting to a younger, newer audience and moving with the times, as all great bands should. At times it sounds like the type of things they were experimenting with on the likes of ‘Vulnerable’ but now with a greater mastery and confidence.
‘Clean Cut Heals’ is suave, smooth and a little bit jazzy, and is probably the most un-Used type track on the whole record. A disco-esque bop with an infectious beat, synths and some funky bass, when it kicks into the chorus it’s guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ve ever heard on an album by these guys before. More along the lines of something you’d hear on a Issues or The 1975 record, it’s one people will love or hate but they’ll tap their feet to it nonetheless. Then there’s the likes of ‘1984 (Infinite Jest)’, a track which combines both elements of dark-pop with swirling melodies, unusual beats and quirky breakdowns with the more typical heavy guitars and dramatic build ups the band are known for, and ‘The Lighthouse’ – uplifting and feel-good alt-pop with another excellent and memorable soaring chorus showcasing Bert’s vocals.
“a fun, up-beat and catchy-as-hell record which perfectly encapsulates everything The Used are about as a band”
It’s worth noting the structure of the record is extremely well constructed to open up with the heavier numbers, end with the heavier numbers, and have the more experimental ‘pop’ stuff in the middle. Although ending with soaring, delicate ballad ‘To Feel Something’ doesn’t quite fit this model, it still works as part of that structure. Classic The Used sound bookends the album. ‘To Feel Something’ could easily have been a cut off one of their older albums and has echoes of heartfelt ballads such as ‘Poetic Tragedy’ off their self titled debut record, or ‘All That I’ve Got’ from ‘In Love And Death’.
A bunch of other songs have literary references in both their titles and lyrics – ‘1984 (Infinite Jest)’, ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ etc. See if you can spot them all. But the choice of titles isn’t just some nerdy easter egg hunt for bookworms to get their teeth stuck into – there’s references buried in the lyrics too not least in the aforementioned ‘1984 (Infinite Jest)’. It’s a certainly a song to make the listener think, with some definite criticism of the capitalist multi-media agenda, which Bert is well known for questioning anyway – “Only way to set us free. Severing the artery. Mountains of waste. Celebrated fantasy. Televise the tragedy.”
And then of course there’s the delightful My Chemical Romance reference: “The prettiest corpses, the real black parade is waiting.”
McCracken has never been one for subtlety, recently making headlines for declaring on stage that The Used would be touring with MCR soon, and although nothing has been announced yet and he later revealed he was only joking, perhaps he was speaking it into existence. We would certainly love to see it. For now, enjoy ‘Heartwork’, a fun, up-beat and catchy-as-hell record which perfectly encapsulates everything The Used are about as a band – enjoying themselves, writing badass multi-layered bops, and not really giving a shit.