As far as pop-punk goes, I’d be hard-pressed to find many bands more successful in terms of popularity or quality as the Alkaline Trio. Formulaic as they may be, they’ve made quite the impressive place for themselves in the world out of diligent touring and some serious power-pop complexity. Predictably brimming with punk flourishes and memorably melodic hooks, This Addiction — the band’s seventh full-length, and first to be co-released on their own label, Heart & Skull — finds the trio playing to its usual strengths, but carefully harkening back to a more direct, and, perhaps (arguably) more genuine point in their career.
There’s very little to unpack as far as thematic vision goes, sure, but This Addiction is actually kind of smart in that way. In a sense, by reminding us of the more bare-bones group they used to be, the members have blended two versions of themselves. While that isn’t really any sort of revelation, the fact remains that what emerges is refreshingly refined.
Frontman Matt Skiba and bassist Dan Andriano trade off vocal responsibilities as per usual. Skiba providing a pseudo-gothic sensibility to the proceedings that always seems to work a little better than it should, while Andriano delivers a more traditional punk demeanor. With This Addiction, this method is mostly as successful as it always is with any Alkaline Trio release. Not as commonplace, however, is the raucous nature in which the band embraces its roots, while elevating its obvious talents even further through deceptively simple composition, strong lyrical content, and a meticulous understanding a the pop mentality.
Powerful, bittersweet, and somehow enjoyable, album opener and title track “This Addiction” sets a remarkable tone for the LP that carries through. Fast, jumping, and to the point, it’s an example of Skiba’s continuing ability to rope one in rather quickly, not only through the “hookiness” of a track, but also through his admittedly off-center charm and direct honesty. “Lead Poisoning,” “The American Scream,” and “Piss and Vinegar” all follow suit with the kind of accessibly vicious pop-punk that seems both satisfying and stirring.
“Eating Me Alive” is an effective pop aside that employs some standard synth tricks, but never really feels out of place on the album due to the success of its own creature comforts. Meanwhile, album closer “Fine” finishes the story in a delicate manner, providing a closure to the heartbreak with a hopeful hint of redemption. On This Addiction, even when the members of Alkaline Trio seem to be stepping away from their comfort zone, there’s this sort of tonal consistency that centers them. It keeps the LP at an impressively compelling level, making it simultaneously ordinary but also a little triumphant.
It’s not easy to keep things interesting when you are band in the vein of Alkaline Trio. Once people know what to expect from you, things can become a bit too comfortable. This Addiction is interesting and ultimately noteworthy because it finds a way to continue on with the band’s winning schematics while tweaking the blueprints in such a way that it’s almost hard to notice that you’ve been duped by all the seeming predictability. Consequently, what you are left with is an honest, lively and perfectly raw pop-punk opus that bites as expertly as it barks.