At the end of 2007, Against Me!'s album New Wave was one of the most acclaimed albums of the year: number one on Spin's list, number five on Blender's, nine in Rolling Stone, 21 in the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll. This year, the band's newest album, White Crosses, just didn't have the same critical resonance. Number 34 in Spin, not making Rolling Stone's list at all, and falling in 68th place in the recently released Voice results.
And the reception wasn't just different in the somewhat meaningless critical realm. The singles from White Crosses haven't been on the radio as much as the ones from New Wave, and I assume the album hasn't sold quite as well.
So, what happened?
There's not that much tonal difference between the two albums — albeit maybe the songs are a little more adult, wrestling with getting older, etc. The album did leak crazily before its release date; over three months before it was due to hit stores, there it was online. But even then, singer Tom Gabel responded as well as could be expected, putting the album's lyrics on his blog immediately, figuring that if people are listening to the music, they might as well get the words right.
The end of the year didn't go so well for the band, either, with personal issues and a split with the band's label, Sire, causing tours to be canceled. Then, drummer George Rebolo, who hadn't been with the group all that long, was gone and replaced by Jay Weinberg.
Bassist Andrew Seward, who has been with the band since 2002, was a little confused by White Crosses' uncertain reception, but he and the group aren't going to let it shake them.
"It's still my favorite record we've ever done," Seward says to New Times, "with the strongest songs and the strongest lyrics. I'm totally happy with it and proud of it."
In fact, as far as Seward is concerned, the weirdness of late 2010 and whatever happened with the album is more an opportunity to regroup and re-energize than anything else. The band is working on new songs, making up the canceled shows in Australia, and, after playing Friday in Mesa, they will play a bunch of shows with the Dropkick Murphys, including an extended series of dates in Boston.
Even their likely brief time without a label isn't shaking Seward. In fact, even though he describes their time with Sire as being one where they retained creative control, he sees being without a label as a positive of sorts. "There's a freedom in doing what we want in the world. The word isn't that we're 'carefree,' but there's a sense where anything can happen."
Seward doesn't think separating from Sire will make much difference for the band creatively or change the group's intensity, because they did largely what they wanted under the two-album contract anyway. I'd think, at the very least, they might a little better off as headliners or matched with bands that make sense with their sound, instead of, say, Silversun Pickups, with whom they played at the Marquee last year.
It seems there's little question that Against Me! still has what it takes to get back to where New Wave left off. After all, their set at Lollapalooza was among the highlights of the three-day festival. Their set at the Nile will be part of their comeback tour in a way — back on the road and off the major label and playing with fury.