Opening with “Calling All Skeletons”, Alkaline Trio burst calmly walk into Damnesia a little more solemn than most of us can remember. Damnesia is a varied collection of the band’s favorites, reworked and unplugged for our consumption. I’ve heard some complaints about the band’s idea, but can you honestly say you are upset to hear “Blue In The Face” and “Private Eye” part two? Not this man.
While somber, the album puts a big exclamation on the band’s songwriting and how two things that are so similar can be received so differently. Listening to “Mercy Me” or the amazing new version of “The American Scream” I find myself comparing Alkaline Trio to other more mainstream “punk” or “punk pop” bands of their day, such as Green Day or Blink-182. I feel the same amount of pop and catchiness is found in these tracks; it’s these unplugged versions that really tell the tale for the disparity between the three. Take some lyrics from “Private Eye”:
I dragged this lake looking for corpses
dusted for prints, pried up the floorboards
You’re really never gonna hear stuff like that on mainstream radio, no matter how much fun it is to sing along to.
While there are some gems on the new album, there are also some headscratchers. “Olde English 800” plays like a reject from Remains, and though I won’t be surprised if it’s a favorite live, it sticks out of Damnesia like a sore thumb. “Radio” sounds more or less like “Radio” previously, and accentuates my biggest gripe with this collection. Skiba and co played it too safe. Why not flip the songs on their head?
Take “The American Scream” (which is actually possibly the best track on this album) for example. Why not break it back down to basics a-la early Alkaline Trio around Goddamnit era and punk it up, make it a burner? Break “Private Eye” down and add some synths and turn it into Crimson-era magic? I sincerely hoped they would go farther than just acoustic-electronic with these tracks, but that kind of ambition is not to be found here.
The other new track, “I Remember A Rooftop” is excellent as well as the cover of Violent Femmes’ “I Held Her In My Arms”. Quality abounds throughout the album, A3 crafts some excellent music no matter the setting, and at the very least you will have picked up a new version of some old favorites.
Alkaline Trio reinvent the past with Damnesia, and though they could’ve went further, the album showcases the fundamentals that have given A3 the staying power other bands often lack.