ALBUM REVIEW – “Imaginary Enemy” by The Used

The post-hardcore boom of the mid-00s may have been somewhat overshadowed by recent developments within the genre, but many acts from the heyday, including The Used, retain intense cult followings and continue to delight fans on the live circuit. Recorded output from the band may have flown somewhat under the radar in terms of the rock mainstream in recent years, but it’s clear that this is something they’re hoping to change with Imaginary Enemy, their sixth full-length record. A far cry from the filthy edge and coarse screams of their self-titled debut, it extends more into pop than anything prior to it and packs as many big melodies into its runtime as possible.

Not that that’s immediately apparent – ‘Revolution’ kicks the record off at breakneck pace, and gives off a more direct hard rock vibe. Only ‘A Song to Stifle Imperial Progression’ tops it in terms of intensity, thanks to its barbwire distorted verses, but from preliminary single ‘Cry’ onwards, The Used hammer home electro-rock accessibility and stadium pop melodies relentlessly. For the most part, depth is foregone in favour of immediacy and sugar-rush thrills, providing an enjoyable listening experience but lacking in great replay value. Many of its songs would sound comfortably at home on mainstream radio.

Balladry is certainly not in short supply, ‘El-Oh-Vee-Ee’, ‘Kenna Song’ and ‘Overdose’ all dripping in lyrical schmaltz and syrupy melodies. The simplicity and frequent mawkishness of the lyrical content of these songs is something of a distraction but the melodies go somewhere to make up for this deficiency. Most disappointing about these songs is their lack of real substance, often fun to listen to but frequently failing to leave a lasting impact – ‘Generation Throwaway’ ironically the guiltiest culprit in this regard. Production is no issue, as it’s clean enough to showcase the songs’ pop flair but with enough grit to provide dynamics, but the songwriting does occasionally fall flat.

Melodies have never been a problem for vocalist Bert McCracken, and his hooks are consistently catchy, but his lyrics do leave a lot to be desired on Imaginary Enemy, whether it’s over wordy political soundbites or slushy declarations of love, for either an individual or, potentially, the band’s fanbase. The band’s rhythm section shine and add colour to many of the tunes but there isn’t much in the way of riffs, certainly not to ‘Pretty Handsome Awkward’ standard.

It’s been unclear exactly what The Used have been hoping to achieve recently, and their direct shift towards accessibility does rather suit their clear melodic skills. Imaginary Enemy is a very easy album to listen to and boasts some excellent pop rock anthems, but doesn’t come close to some of their earlier records in terms of lasting impact and feral excitement. Whether it will stand the test of time as well as those records will remain to be seen.

Rating: 6/10

[Michael Bird]




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  1. [Photo Gallery] The Used, Taking Back Sunday, Tonight Alive, Sleepwave – 4/22/2014 – Silver Spring, MD | RichardThinks.Org - April 28, 2014

    […] you haven’t already, go check out Michael’s review’s of “Imaginary Enemy” & “Happiness […]

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