The first Good Riddance song that I had ever heard was "Always," on the Fat Music Vol. V: Live Fat, Die Young comp. It quickly became one of my favorites, for its blending of a positive message with blistering guitar riffs and rapid fire drumming. With that positive outlook, I was happy to get the newest album from the boys to review, "Bound By Ties of Blood and Affection." I was well rewarded, though there are some areas of contention.
Bound By Ties of Blood and Affection starts with the energetic "Made To Be Broken," which follows easily in the footsteps of "Always"; loud guitars, pounding bass, driving drums, energetic vocals, the whole package. Production-wise, the guitars sound amazing, though a little loud in the mix, at the expense of the vocals. Especially with Good Riddance, but with almost any band, the guitars and vocals will be in the same bandwidth, and its always difficult to have them both upfront and clear. A pretty good balance is achieved, though the vocals are a little low, as are the drums, depriving the album of a little extra punch.
"More Depalma, Less Fellini" follows with the lyrics from and influenced by the Bukowski poem "Here I Am," and its one of the few good treatments of the idea of a writer struggling for inspiration. As is something of a GR (and other bands,' as well) trademark, every other song is "sung" without melody. Fortunately, GR has figured out what so many others have failed to: a melodic guitar line can easily substitute, and this track is definitely carried by the guitars.
"Boxing Day" seems to be a take on the Blink-182 formula, though that only comes from experience that does not include the band's 15 year history. Who influenced who is beyond me, but this track is definitely MTV friendly, for what its worth. As the band is moving into a comfortable middle-age, touring only during the summers, and limiting the number of dates on the tours, it would almost be a shame if the song were to be picked up by the corporate mass media, as the band no longer seems interested in living the dream every minute of every day.
"Black Bag Confidential" could have been pulled from the Oingo-Boingo canon, with bouncy, distorted bass and drums tag-teaming to lead the track, with very Danny Elfman-esque vocals over the top. The only problem is the utter lack of a chorus. There is nothing really being said in the vocals (that couldn't be said better) and the chords have no connection to the rest of the song. However, there seems to be either another chorus at the end of the song, or its an extension of a verse, or an outro bridge, or the first chorus was a bridge. Basically, the song has an interesting structure, gets off on the right foot, and kinda dies where it stands.
By comparison, behold the next track, the almost painfully short "Paean to the Enlightenment," which features a similar groove to "Black Bag Confidential," but with a chorus that tops the song perfectly. Eerie harmonies between the rhythm tracks, the lead guitar and the vocals add up to great music. And that chorus is only 9 seconds long. Perfect.
Among the messages in the music, there are few that are directly on target, meaning there are no specific topics. Instead there are songs about the general suburban middle-class malaise, the general dislike of the mass media. What this costs the album in incisive songs tied to a moment that will live forever, it provides in a more timeless feel. Being middle-class will always be kind of pointless, and the mass media will always suck, so these songs will always be timely.
In the non-message songs, one of the highlights of this set is "Dylan." Not being sure of the details, the song is sung from the point of view of having a friend going through something horrible (maybe a divorce or death of a loved one?) and trying to let them know that you are there for them to talk to. Its not the most musically powerful song on the album, but lyrically it's amazing.
All in all, top to bottom, this is one of the most even albums I've heard in a long time. The band definitely mixes up the sounds and feels, and the subject matter is always dealt with in a fresh manner. Sometimes certain aspects don't hold together, but in general, in total, Bound By Ties of Blood and Affection is a great album.
Dustin Kreidler is a Contributing Writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.