I can, hand on heart, describe The Used as my favourite band of all time, having discovered them in 2003 and fallen in love with every single track ever since. It's rare to find a band that you can't possibly fault, but I have held these boys on a pedestal since I first heard Blue and Yellow. My interest in this band doesn't fall short of anything less than worship, so any news of a new album sends me into a frenzy. From the perspective of a dedicated fan since the self-titled days, is the Imaginary Enemy a worthy opponent?
Imaginary Enemy takes on an astounding political message distancing itself from The Used's typical love-driven sound, but it's a welcome and smooth transition beckoned by singer Bert McCracken's politically-driven abandonment of the States in favour of living in Australia. The Taste of Ink is fading in The Back Of Your Mouth, the Lies For The Liars have Come Undone and it's time for a new chapter in their story.
Let's start with that album artwork. The Used have worked with the likes of Alex Pardee in the past to create covers that perfectly encapsulate every emotion each album guides you through, and Imaginary Enemy is no exception. You can see the band members in the midst of a political Where's Wally? and even a sly nod to the self-titled album cover - just don't go mistaking the Pope for Zoidberg like I did at first glance. The focal point is the hanging heart, the band's long-term symbol since In Love And Death, which has significantly evolved to a more realistic image over the years. The Used are putting their heart out on the line with every album, and it's safe to say their effort paid off this time, as with every time.
There's a significant backstep taken by guitarists Quinn and Jepha through definitive technical deviations from The Used's iconically heavy style in the title track, Force Without Violence and El-Oh-Vee-Ee, but nonetheless merge into the grand scheme of the album seamlessly by maintaining what the band does best - describing how the world uses and abuses the individual.
Throughout their career, The Used have maintained a comparison to My Chemical Romance, whether willingly or not, and true to form, A Song To Stifle Imperial Progression (A Work In Progress) throws back to Bullets-era MCR with its raw, passionate screams and deep grinding electrics. Bleeding back to Iddy Biddy from The Ocean of the Sky EP, the political theme of the album springs forward the most in this track, and Bert's never been one for mincing his words - 'by declaring war on terror, you declare war on yourself'.
'What will you do to us when we won't do what you say?'. Bert remains the master of haunting, thought-forcing lyrics, and Evolution is the perfect example of an ability to lead the revolution single-handedly. Revolution continues this pledge of allegiance but surprisingly falls a little closer to #KONY2012 than Che Guevara.
The album's debut single Cry doesn't immediately encapsulate the politics of the entire album when you're not listening between the lines, but instead calmly introduces The Used's transition from a once brutally heavy quartet into a more contemplative, accessible sound. There's also a not-so-hidden treat for long-term fans with the repetition of the lyrics from the band's classic Buried Myself Alive, so The Used know just how to draw their dedicated listeners into their new atmosphere.
The Used have perfected slow, emotional songs down to an art form over the years, and Kenna Song is no exception - tugging at your heart strings but you're not quite sure why. Defiance and rebellion ring through Bert McCracken's heartbreaking vocals, carrying the message of the futility of war and popular protest. If you're missing the likes of I Caught Fire and Find A Way, Overdose provides light relief in the form of a defiant lover's accepting the neverending depths of affection he's consciously fallen into. Make Believe brings back In Love And Death vibes, consuming an endemic political message within a seemingly personal attack similar to Taste of Ink - 'you don't get to tell me how to live anymore' - don't play this too loud around the parents.
Generation Throwaway could carry the entire record on its shoulders if it needed to - this anthemic call to arms proves The Used's progression alongside the passing trends of the genre has not systematically altered them as a band, endemically prioritising profound messages and sweeping themes of dissatisfaction with life as we know it.
This record needs no definition, no explanatory notes, no behind-the-scenes or between-the-lines - for The Used, it's political, but for vocalist Bert McCracken, it's personal.
Best Bits: Generation Throwaway, Make Believe, Kenna Song, Overdose
For Fans Of: Fall Out Boy - Folie A Deux