For their fourth studio album, The Used–a band known for their tragic melodies, raw vocals and powerful hooks–have teamed up with producer Matt Squire (Taking Back Sunday, Boys Like Girls, Katy Perry, and 3OH!3) to create a cohesive, emotive alternative record with just the right amount of pop flare. For more than a year singer Bert McCraken, guitarist Quinn Allman, Bassist Jeph Howard, and drummer Dan Whitesides have toiled over the creation of what Allman called a, “more sincere” approach to his bands music. “Lyrically, it completely engulfs you and makes you feel safe but it’s all about feeling alone and empty and knowing there’s always a light,” said Allman.
In the past, that light Allman spoke of hasn’t always shone through The Used’s dark, troubled lyrics and heavy pulsating riffs. On Artwork however, the band has managed a perfect combination of the grit that put them on the map and the artistic impulses that have pulled them in a more polished direction. The first single from Artwork, “Blood On My Hands,” is indeed the perfect blend of shiny pop and edgy alternative rock. All the attitude The Used have become known for is there, and it’s only re-enforced by the giant sing-along chorus that drives the track. It’s the perfect way to open the record, and The Used pulls it off flawlessly.
Artwork continues with “Empty With You,” a classic-sounding The Used track that finds McCraken looking for a companion who’s just as dysfunctional as he is. It feels like an extremely natural progression for the band, and the record, and serves as the perfect bridge to the records second single, and strongest track, “Born to Quit.” As indie-rock anthems go this one is about as big as they come. The chorus explodes with a fiery, almost bittersweet quality that channels previous singles like as “All That I’ve Got” and “Buried Myself Alive.” Fans looking for the band’s old-school sound on Artwork should head straight for “Come Undone.” It’s loud, angry and in your face, and you can feel the passion in his voice when McCraken screams, “I’ll be the end that you deserve!”
Other standout tracks include the groovy, “On the Cross,” a tune that seems to be an obvious attack on religion as McCraken wails, “pray/ if it makes you feel safe/ all i can say/ is we go our own way.” The energy, passion and pure attitude on “Cross” is what makes this track stand out, while at the same time allowing it to fit in seamlessly with the rest of the record. Even next to the somewhat out of place ballad, “Kissing You Goodbye,” or the heavier, metal-infused jam, “The Best of Me,” it’s tracks like “Cross” that have defined The Used as a consistent, driving force in the world of alternative rock.
After nearly a decade making music Bert McCraken and friends have done what most bands struggle to accomplish. Instead of trying to keep up with today’s trends, The Used has remained true to the spunky, scream-heavy rock that captured audiences back in 2003. As a result, Artwork is one of their strongest, most consistent albums to date. It’s the perfect blend of the raw emotion and unbridled intensity of earlier records like Maybe Memories and Shallow Believer, with just enough of the shiny polished edge that dominated Lies for the Liars and In Love and Death. It’s loud, it’s raucous and it will stick with you, but most of all it’s a true representation of everything The Used stand for, and with that, it truly is Artwork.