And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
nd You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead got called a lot of things during the mean-spirited and self-flagellating backlash that followed the release of Worlds Apart, but one oft-employed word always felt inaccurate: sell-out. Considering that their second major-label effort was pushed to January and had little promotion, you'd be hard-pressed to prove that Jimmy Iovine was even aware of their existence in 2005. Besides, the conservative move for the group would've been to release a Room On Fire/Antics/You Could Have It So Much Better and watch the polite reviews roll in.
So Divided is definitive proof that Trail of Dead could care less about executive input. In fact, it sounds like the work of a band whose solitary goal is to get dropped as quickly as possible. Its artistic detours are even more jarring than those of Worlds Apart. The good news is that its quality is far less erratic. The bad news is the reason why: it's almost uniformly awful.
Over half of So Divided is made up of five-to-six minute dirges that are over long before they actually finish. They expose the real problem behind latter day Trail of Dead: the band no longer knows how to crescendo. Nearly every song on Source Tags & Codes built to a stunning climax, but two albums later, they're content to bundle holding patterns and imitate legendary bands at their creative nadir. They blueshammer through the first four minutes of "Naked Sun" (think Metallica's "2x4") and try to drift out of their rut by tacking on an additional two minutes of strum and drag. The tired tour diary/The Fragile tribute "Wasted State of Mind" piles on the oddball percussion and tacky piano loops, but the tune itself plateaus a quarter of the way through. "Caught in a stasis / Feels like I've wasted all this time" sings Conrad Keely without a bit of self-awareness. Meanwhile, "Sunken Dreams," quite possibly the only song ever influenced by Ross Robinson-era Cure, wafts by like the remains of a mushroom cloud—a fitting end to an album that often feels like it's emitting radiation.
The less ambitious numbers are more tolerable, but they also sound like the last resort for a band with nowhere else to go. "Witches Web" is built on acoustic strumming and falsetto cooing instead of the things at which Trail of Dead excel. So Divided's highlight just might be "Eight Day Hell," a two-minute nugget of Herman's Hermits-style pop that's really too bizarre to actually be enjoyable. As hard as it is to believe, it's not a cover, but "Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory" is. And it decides that the best way to honor the legacy of Guided By Voices is to turn one of their songs into "Wind of Change" bombast.
On top of the faux epics and covers, you get Trail of Dead's two longest and least interesting interludes. The first gets reprised on "Stand in Silence," which takes a big chunk of Jane's Addiction's "Had a Dad" and converts it into bratty mall-core from 2002. Not even the band's own catalog is safe from cannibalization; "Life" is basically a rewrite of "Will You Smile Again?" without the awesome 5/4 bookends that made the middle worthwhile. The title track inflates "All White" with four extra minutes of hot air. Pre-Source Tags b-side "Witches Web" comes back from over five years of slumber and hopes nobody notices. It’s somehow fitting: bloated and flimsy—a rush job that no one wanted to hurry along—So Divided is marked only by its dearth of ideas.