Lies for the Liars
ies for the Liars begins with the Used front man Bert McCracken insisting “Time kills, go ask Jesus,” and finishes with a twenty second pseudo-rap based on the four syllables that comprise the word “Quesadilla.” Promotion for the album is in the hands (er… hand and droopy appendage) of Chadam, a block-headed, disfigured monster who wanders around Tim Burton-esque suburban horrorscapes in the cover art and maintains his own MySpace page and blog. The Used, quite obviously, is a consummately ridiculous band, and no band should wield a weapon as powerful as ridiculousness without taking full advantage of its potential.
By that standard, this is either a terrible band with a knack for coming up with great songs, or a great band that endeavors to be as thoroughly unlovable as often as possible. Their frenetic and ostentatious post-hardcore combines elements of My Chemical Romance’s lurid theatricality and AFI’s stadium-gloom, and it is no coincidence that all three bands are adept at reaping rewards from the abjectly ludicrous. My Chemical Romance embraces its inherent silliness, performing as a fictitious act and creating wild concept videos, while AFI unswervingly maintains its po-faced goth seriousness, never allowing a hint of levity to breach its carefully constructed facade. The Used’s dilemma, then, is not so much that it lacks self-awareness, but that it shows occasional, uncertain glimmers that it understands the full extent of its absurdity. This sort of music doesn’t endure prevaricating well.
The only reason to suspect that McCracken should know better than to do things like howl elementary school taunts throughout “Liar Liar (Burn in Hell),” is that he so often hints that he does know better. The band attacks first single “The Bird and the Worm” with all the conviction and excess required to justify the bathetic symbolism articulated in the title (a man crawls like the latter from the former), adorning it in instrumentation almost as ludicrously ornate as its lyrics. It’s the most extreme use of the Used’s newly expanded palette, but Lies for the Liars as a whole wallows in its surfeit of session musicians, seemingly finding room for every gratuitous noisemaker available to a group of moderately successful Utah punks.
When they bother to focus on songwriting rather than songcrafting, the Used is effortlessly catchy. “Paralyzed” swipes the Cure’s “Love Cats” and outfits it in Hot Topic attire (and horns). “Hospital” has a levity that is more than appropriate for its ambulance-chasing solemnity, and “Earthquake” is further evidence that no-one can pull out a punk-rock power ballad like these guys can. But if it is actually possible to play a Smashing Pumpkins-reminiscent lullaby like “Smother Me,” straight enough to rationalize the inclusion of a chorus that pleads “Turn my insides out,” the Used haven’t quite figured it out yet.
Similarly, inserting a Pink Floyd-esque interlude into the perfectly good hardcore thrash “Wake the Dead” proves only that the band’s studio down time apparently included more than a few listens to “The Great Gig in the Sky.” Such diversions are particularly ill-placed considering the album’s dearth of good hardcore thrashes; the simpler punk songs here are scrubbed up and shoved awkwardly into their Sunday best. “Pretty Handsome Awkward” and “The Ripper” rocket through quite superb melodies, but their over-compressed, overdriven guitars are a poor substitute for the gritty excoriations that occupied the same place on In Love and Death, this record’s predecessor.
And yet, there’s just too much solid music for this to be considered a bad album. As it is, Lies for the Liars is a funny, befuddling, and altogether unexpectedly enjoyable record. That it succeeds so often is nothing short of amazing, considering how thoroughly ill-advised so much of it is. Perhaps that shouldn’t be such a surprise. The Used are too busy being ridiculous here to spend much time thinking about it. Which is exactly what this music requires.
Reviewed by: Jonathan Bradley
Reviewed on: 2007-06-15