Genres can be confusing. They are blanket descriptions that are used to superficially cover wide ranges of music. I bring this up to clarify my next statement: we are just one month into 2014 and The Lawrence Arms have put out what will most likely stand as one of the best pop-punk releases of the year. But that pop-punk moniker shouldn’t deter those who are turned off by bony knees and sleepy eyes and aren’t actively defending their genre. Metropole, The Lawrence Arms’ first album in eight years, is a tried and true pop-punk record in the classic sense, dripping with grit and grime, yet always keeping a glimmering melody while never wavering from its in-your-face attitude.
Now, before I start, there’s something I need to confess: before this record, I didn’t really listen to The Lawrence Arms. Yes, I had heard a few songs and I knew of the band and their status, but I had never actually sat down and gone through their discography. And I think that had a positive impact on the impression this record has had. To me, Metropole is fresh and invigorating, something I have been looking for in this genre. Right off the bat, The Lawrence Arms lay down the groundwork for what is to come with opener “Chilean District”. Immediately, the listener is thrust into a brash, double-time romp with one of the catchiest hooks on the album, one that features soaring harmonies courtesy of vocalists Chris McCaughan and Brendan Kelly. The dual vocals really stand out as a major strength on Metropole, creating a tension in the songs while also keeping them fresh and interesting.
The opener is just the first taste of the more aggressive side of The Lawrence Arms here. “Hickey Avenue” follows a rumbling bass line and pounding drums into a full-on punk outburst, while “Acheron River” features a high-energy chorus that will without a doubt send fans into a frenzy live. Then there is “Drunk Tweets”, the grimiest punk song on the record, a high-octane “fuck you” that grabs you by the throat immediately and doesn’t let go for the entirety of its minute-and-a-half run time. When Metropole steps on the gas, it goes all out, and with exceptional results.
Where Metropole really shines, however, is the more subdued moments. When the aggressiveness takes a backseat, the record is able to shine. That’s not to say a de-clawed The Lawrence Arms is what we’re looking for, as there is still a distinct attitude and hostility to it, but there is something to be said for the moments such as “Beautiful Things”, where we are witnesses to the strongest vocal performance of the record, or the title track, a slow-burning piece that morphs continuously from its simple acoustic beginning to its overpowering end. The true standout on the album, however, is the phenomenal “The YMCA Down the Street From the Clinic”. Lyrically and thematically, Metropole seems to be a harrowing take on a bleak world, and that is never more exemplified than in this track. Sonically, “The YMCA Down the Street” shows a more reserved side of the band, but they absolutely do not lose their edge, nor their power. The closing lines “We are the lonely seeds/Adrift on burning seas/Just pour the goddamn round/And let’s let these fuckers drown” are a gut-wrenching finale to the high point of an outstanding album.
As my beloved pop-punk scene becomes more and more crowded and diluted, I am finding myself increasingly disenchanted with the newer bands appearing. Which makes the impact that Metropole has had on me even stronger. It is just the album I was looking for at this point in my life. Its seamless integration of aggressiveness and melody comes across as immensely organic, and the lyrics are a captivating look at dark introspection. Metropole is a behemoth of a record, and one that has quickly found a special place with me.