Nowhere Generation LP + 7”
(Loma Vista Records/Universal Music Group)
It feels difficult to believe that, with Nowhere Generation, Rise Against has been making records for twenty years. Now, that isn’t to say any band making music together uninterrupted for twenty years is unheard of, just that it’s uncommon for a punk band to stay together for that long without there at least being some kind of break along the way is a statement unto itself (to their credit, NOFX has done it). Rise Against is unique though and, with their ninth full-length album, the band has elected to abandon much of the sound the band has been developing over the last thirteen years or so [2008’s Appeal To Reason marked the beginning of the band’s journey away from hardcore orthodoxy –ed] and return to a straightforward hardcore form – with fewer extra instruments (although there are still a couple) and dynamic changes.
Granted, the band’s moments away from straight-out hardcore toward a hardcore/alt-rock hybrid have been gradual, but the reversion here – all at once and with no holding back – is pretty spectacular. Here, Rise Against returns like they never left and leave it to listeners to find their own way through the songs on Nowhere Generation.
As soon as “The Numbers” locks into gear, Rise Against prove they haven’t lost a step through the years of experimentation that they’ve recently undertaken. Right away, drummer Brandon Barnes makes sure bassist Joe Principe, guitarist Zach Blair and singer/guitarist Tim McIlrath are all in perfect lockstep with him as he just blazes forward, relentlessly. The outset is perfect – the drums and bass have no slip between them, the guitars function as a flawless union and, combined, present a solid platform on which McIlrath delivers lyrics which are simultaneously hopeful and worried about a coming confrontation that is not clearly defined but from which the results are uncertain (see lines like, “Pledge allegiance/ While crossing our fingers/A bark with no bite/ No teeth, just a roar”). It feels difficult to contend that “The Numbers” might encapsulate American events of the last five years, but it’s equally difficult to see it any other way than that. Throughout their career, Rise Against has split their time between chronicling current events and composing manifestos, but “The Numbers” seeks to split the difference between the two and the results are simultaneously raucous and cathartic. That combination is the hook that every successive track after “The Numbers” upholds, without fail.
Immediately after “The Numbers” lets out, Rise Against pushes a little harder and gets a little more aggressive with “Sudden Urge.” There, producers Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore underscore their return to Rise Against’s extended ranks (the pair made their return producing Wolves and thus ending a thirteen-year absence) and tighten the space between the instruments in the mix – and while the song doesn’t keep the same tempo as its predecessor, the power in the performance does not decrease in the slightest. Blair’s guitars scream like sirens and McIlrath’s vocals get just a little bit more raw as he finds community with the “names and faces not listed in the pages” of a directory of the disenfranchised that he sees growing longer by the day. When listeners decade the lines, they’ll feel their fury rise – a phenomenon that the singer shares and remains consistent as the side continues.
It’s after “Sudden Urge” that the A-side of Nowhere Generation really falters. Where conventional wisdom (in terms of hardcore orthodoxy) would dictate that Rise Against should both pound and wow listeners with a definitive summation of the album’s focus, “Nowhere Generation” aims for much softer and more cathartic climes as the song opens with a plea for community (“We are the Nowhere Generation/ We are the kids that no one wants/ We are a credible threat to the rules you set/ A cause to be alarmed” could be great – it has the spirit which could take over the world – but feels impotent in its tone, tempo and delivery) and, while the speed does eventually pick up, the song just doesn’t pack the punch it needs to break through. “Nowhere Generation” is just okay, and “Talking To Ourselves” treads water in the same position immediately after it – but happily, “Broken Dreams, Inc.” redeems the running by ramming through a great “all or nothing” powerhouse, at side’s end.
“Broken Dreams, Inc.” is truly the statuesque pillar of a moment that the late-running of Nowhere Generation‘s A-side needs. There, Rise Against nails all the posts that fans hope for: McIlrath strikes a solemn pose (“I have seen what you call progress – all the warning signs ignored”) while Joe Principe swirls up a fantastic torrent of angry energy, Brandon Barnes batters his kit in a way which would definitely make Nowhere Generation‘s producer proud (“Loud! And fast!”) and Zach Blair screeches over the top of the mix with some absolutely incendiary guitar licks. The results are punk rock ambrosia; while not exactly stock in structure, “Broken Dreams, Inc.” taps a pressure point which will hook listeners and drag them along, and they’ll love it instead of feeling overwhelmed. When the needle finally does lift, three minutes and fifty-three seconds later, listeners will be surprised when they jump to their turntables to change the side and keep that energy up; it is then that listeners will realize they’ve been well and truly won by Nowhere Generation.
…And when they do flip it over, listeners will find a completely different turn again on the B-side of Nowhere Generation. “Monarch” opens the B-side with a great, very “early NOFX”-inspired and powerful guitar figure backed by a rolling drum part which, again, feels an awful lot like something Smelly might have done at one time – but the band shifts gears pretty dramatically with the introduction of “Forfeit” – but the thing about that turn is that it still feels pretty smooth and well-worn. With “Forfeit,” what Rise Against is presenting is not exactly new for them – the band has included (at least) one acoustic song on every album since Siren Song of the Counter Culture – and while the development of such songs has changed over the years, “Forfeit” marks the first time Rise Against has produced a song which features all the trappings of a vintage, mainstream ballad. The band takes its time and builds a three-minute ballad here, complete with strings, piano, arpeggiated guitars and glowering post-production to further deepen the darkness and desperation which follows the words, “I will not give up” in the song. There’s no question that the song is a good one but, even on the first listen, that it really feels like a Rise Against song is questionable.
Happily, while it’s unlikely that any listener would claim that “Forfeit” isn’t a difficult song, “Sounds Like” redeems the side’s running by playing as the album’s greatest, most stand-out cut. The band effortlessly returns to a sound and style similar to that which powered Revolutions Per Minute and recaptures the melodic hardcore vibe which won the band its’ fans in the first place. It’s great and, while “Sooner Or Later” coasts a little in the wake produced by “Sounds Like,” “Middle Of A Dream” steals the last embers from it and stokes them up to an inferno again. Honestly sounding like a lost song from early in the band’s career, “Middle Of A Dream” proves conclusively that, while Rise Against may have stretched out their inspiration in recent years, they still know where they started and aren’t afraid to return to that place. And, just to prove they know how to support some of McIlrath’s more incendiary lyric sheets, Rise Against detonates “Rules Of Play” (which hits so hard that it’s in danger of making a turntable skip with its own power) to close out the album. It’s a solid end, and there’s no question that listeners who have run front-to-back with Nowhere Generation will feel the impact, when it hits them.
Being able to say that the ending moments of Nowhere Generation are capable of leaving such an impression on listeners now, nine albums in, is saying something. It’s a pretty profound statement, really; Rise Against has been around for twenty-one years and released nine albums (as well as a multitude of EPs and other smaller releases) and, while they have developed and found success, they haven’t forgotten where home base is. Not only that, but this album proves that they can return to the places they started and make something genuine and good with it. [Bill Adams]
Nowhere Generation is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.