It’s felt like the right time for a new Alkaline Trio album for a while now. Regardless of how well Matt Skiba is doing in blink-182 (and the fact that California proved as divisive as it did only solidifies the point further), their recent material has erred closer to scrubbed, preened pop-rock more than ever before, AKA the complete opposite of how Alkaline Trio tend to operate. Alongside the fact that it’s been five years since My Shame Is True, an album that even the most ardent of ‘Trio fans seem to have forgotten even exists, there’s a definite gap in the market just waiting for them to return.
And really, there’s no better or more accurate way to describe this album than “another Alkaline Trio album”, and while the same could be said for My Shame Is True, Is This Thing Cursed? is at least an improvement at hitting all the right beats for a fairly decent if fleeting listen. This isn’t another Good Mourning or Crimson, but given how long this band have been around and the increased magnitude of Skiba’s other commitments, it shouldn’t be expected to be. At this late stage, a solid album is better than nothing, and Is This Thing Cursed? manages to fill that role perfectly adequately.
That also means that any individual views of this album will more or less fall in line with views on Alkaline Trio in general. It’s largely a quickfire affair with no song going on for too long, and still deeply rooted in melodic punk with touches of gothic darkness that’s always been their forte. And just like with most of their recent material, they’re continuing to get some decent mileage out of it, probably faring the best in widescreen, more sentimental cuts like Sweet Vampires and Stay, but managing to avoid any stumbles on greater dalliances with darker tones on the title track and Goodbye Fire Island. The production follows a similar familiar pattern too, with the guitars having enough depth and body to withstand some extra tightness and polish, and Skiba and Dan Andriano’s vocals being right at the front to allow their deeper, more imposing tones to stand out to an even greater degree.
The thing is though, that exact description could be used for virtually any recent Alkaline Trio album. Sure, consistency is good, and the band have clearly clocked on to the fact that they’ve good a workable formula that’s continuing to do some serious numbers for them, but it’s not as if even a slight change wouldn’t be appreciated. It leads to Is This Thing Cursed? feeling disappointingly inessential, almost as if Alkaline Trio are simply spinning their wheels to reassure longtime fans that Skiba’s stint in blink-182 hasn’t changed anything. But that also leads to a worrying number of these tracks being really forgettable, and even the best can’t hold a candle to the classics this band already have. It might not be as much of a placeholder as My Shame Is True, but that’s definitely what a good portion of this album feels like. Even if it’s not bad (which most of it isn’t), it feels rather inconsequential at the same time.
That’s a shame too, because it’s been a while since we’ve had a really great Alkaline Trio album, and that unfortunate streak doesn’t seem to have been broken with Is This Thing Cursed?. For ‘Trio diehards or those simply enamoured by the idea of more melodic punk to get into (those who’ve recently become enamoured with Creeper will undoubtedly find a lot to love here), this will go down a treat, but even that doesn’t seem to be a prospect with much longevity behind it. As good as Alkaline Trio have been and continue to be, they’ve hit a fairly lukewarm stride recently, and that doesn’t appear to be changing much.
For fans of: Creeper, The Bouncing Souls, The Ataris
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Is This Thing Cursed?’ by Alkaline Trio is released on 31st August on Epitaph Records.