It's not uncommon for fans to have a soft spot for the first album they hear from a beloved artist. It might not be the band's defining work, but it was your entry point, your gateway. I'll always carry a torch for Alkaline Trio's fourth album, Good Mourning, and in this case, it's a significant album in the band's body of work and an important record in my personal history. Go to an Alkaline Trio show, and you'll see plenty of 20- and 30-somethings. I suspect that I'm not alone in holding on to this record as a high school touchstone.
Good Mourning is just a couple of months shy of its 10th anniversary, and looking back at the band's discography, it stands out as some of Alkaline Trio's best work. Don't get me wrong -- Goddamnit is the band's greatest album, but Good Mourning has a specific magic, featuring just the right balance of love and the macabre, and great production values to top it all off.
Part of Alkaline Trio's continued appeal is that the band evolves with each album. Goddamnit and Maybe I'll Catch Fire are both dark and gritty, with moments of beauty ("Enjoy Your Day" and "You've Got So Far to Go") sprinkled in among the songs about death and tornadoes.
The band's stylistic touches took a sharp pop-punk turn upon signing with Vagrant Records in 2001 and releasing From Here to Infirmary, a classic in its own right. Both "Radio" and "Private Eye" are grim and self-destructive -- just you try getting out of your mind the image of Skiba wishing a former lover would throw a radio in a bathtub. Skiba's "suspects and alibis" crime fiction aside, songs like "Stupid Kid," "Mr. Chainsaw," and "Armageddon" are poppy, easily accessible breakup songs that instantly get stuck in your head. These balance well with darker tracks like "Trucks and Trains" and "Crawl."
Alkaline Trio built on this balance of love and death even more with Good Mourning. The album is a turn away from Infirmary's poppy sound, veering toward the band's undeniable goth influences. Mourning . . . is full of images of the darkness, from Dan Andriano wondering whether anyone would notice if he fell out of a building and his going straight to hell in "One Hundred Stories" to Skiba getting turned on by playing with matches in "This Could Be Love." This album even has a song about the Donner Party. (How cheery!) Overall, Good Mourning is dark, but Andriano's songs add some levity. Skiba sings about love gone wrong in "Fatally Yours," but things drastically turn around in the following song, "Every Thug Needs a Lady." The goofy name can be attributed to a night of drinking and listening to hip-hop, but that doesn't show in the lyrics. Andriano promises to make it warmer next year, singing about kissing in the snow and staying in and snuggling under an electric blanket as the couple looks forward to a warm Southern wedding.
The warmth extends to "Blue Carolina," which plays out like Andriano's internal dialogue while waiting for his bride to walk down the aisle. The lyrics make him sound nervous, until he asks himself, "How badly do I want this?" and immediately answers "I really want this," dispelling all feelings of doubts and longing to kiss his lover because "it really counts this time."
Good Mourning came out at just the right time. In 2003, pop punk was comfortably riding out the waves of mainstream success as blink-182 released its self-titled record, New Found Glory's popular Sticks and Stones was released a year earlier, and Midtown was between Living Well Is the Best Revenge and Forget What You Know. These albums all dealt with the tribulations of growing up and the awkwardness of dating, providing instant appeal for teenagers. This trend helped Good Mourning's love songs stick, while making the dark undertones more interesting and evocative. Alkaline Trio was spooky -- but not too spooky -- and sweet but with plenty of bite.
Sure, hearing Skiba sing about shitting the bed, blasphemy, blood, and whatnot is a little weird, but the polished pop-punk sound of Good Mourning makes it a good transition record from the major-label pop-punk giants of the early Aughts to goth-influenced classics like The Misfits, The Cure, and The Damned. Not surprisingly, Alkaline Trio got even creepier on its fifth album, Crimson, which received some flak from fans for straying away from the band's pop-punk sound. (That may be the case, but "Sadie" remains one of the greatest songs ever written about the Manson family.)
Alkaline Trio's ninth album, My Shame Is True will be released on Tuesday, April 2. The band has released two promising new songs so far, "I Wanna Be a Warhol" and "The Torture Doctor," once again showing the contrast between love and death in Alkaline Trio's signature subject matter, and the balancing act the band mastered with Good Mourning.
Alkaline Trio returns to Marquee Theatre with Bayside on Sunday, April 28.