Mesmerizing guitar riffs. Intricate instrumentation. Fever-inducing hooks. Stellar, figurative songwriting. These elements of Anberlin’s sound rule their sophomore release, Never Take Friendship Personal. While their first release, Blueprints For the Blackmarket, laid out the plans (or blueprints) for the band’s sound, their second release puts these plans to good use. The debut was an impressive one, but a few nagging flaws surfaced over time. Moving on from Blueprints, Friendship breaks down the band’s intentions musically and lyrically, compiling the things that work well and throwing away the trite musical components that eventually made their rookie record lose a little intrigue. In result, the band’s second release is an entity of phenomenal proportions.
Friendship is a fully developed piece of artistic devourment; the band stuns listeners with an array of fabulous melodies and melodrama. They write songs about relationships, minus the predictable, cookie-cutter lyrics. Rather, Anberlin writes with substance, and perfects their lines so choruses can be singable but also retain meaning. While much of the meaning can be found behind the thematic – and often metaphorical and narrative – elements of Friendship, the protruding instrumentation reinforces the written strengths with bruising guitars and succulent melodies.
The mash-up of guitar, bass, and drum beats is a tighter, smoother combination than before, providing a memorable outlet musically. On this record, Anberlin show their hand not just at performing, but executing. Not only does Friendship intensify Stephen Christian’s potential as a vocalist, but it turns his high-toned, froggy singing into a hook-laden firestorm. Songs like the title track and “Stationary Stationery” are thick and memorable, polished with a catchy mix of pop-punk and rock. Though those songs bring craft and melody to the table, “Paperthin Hymn” takes the cake, demonstrating Anberlin’s emotional potency as Christian sings “These thoughts run through my head / over and over / complacent violins become my only friends.” While the songwriting prints an image inside the listener’s head with its stunning sensibility, it also allows for soaring choruses to become a part of the Anberlin vision. Friendship proves that this vision – to write and record catchy alt-rock hits that never dissolve in replay value – is no longer a vision; rather, it’s a tangible constituent of the band’s fervor.
Guitars chew apart the clean canvas of the album’s second half, as chords pounce and strike in later tracks “The Feel Good Drag” and “Audrey, Start the Revolution!” “A Day Late” is an exemplary love ballad, but from the outside it doesn’t feel like one. That may be due to Anberlin’s amazing ability to cover up cliches with elaborative songwriting, or it may even be their punk-lite sound at work. In fact, guitar licks spice things up whenever verses get tiring, slowing things down before kicking into high-gear for the choruses. “(The Symphony of) Blase” is a different story altogether, as it is a more laid-back, heart-filled remedy than the crushing rock anthems that Friendship is chock full of. Likewise, “Dance, Dance Christa Paffgen” ends the album like the final pages of a book; the track may not ingrain itself like Blueprints’ “Naive Orleans,” but it’s quite the endnote for the story of love, loss, and relationship frenzy that Friendship presents through its 11 songs.
Anberlin’s place in the music scene became more resolute two years later when Cities tugged at the heartstrings of listeners as a moody, aesthetic progression from Friendship’s exquisite, booming nature, but Anberlin’s 2005 release has never lost steam. It has powered itself through seven years of great records and remains one of the more impressive gems of the mid-2000s. Though they went on to accomplish quite a lot following Friendship, due to its incredulous balance of power and sentimentality, the group’s second album will forever be a held as a standard not just for Anberlin, but for contemporary music in general.