At Warped Tour 2013, The Used took the stage in the colorful neon face masks that signify the Russian punk rock activists Pussy Riot. Part of their set was played in the masks before they were removed, and a cascade of rainbow powder flew over the swarming crowd like smoky rain. It was an energetic, memorable riot that played the perfect centerpiece for the energy that The Used brought to the stage.
Imaginary Enemy is a riveting, constantly evolving and inflammatory punk album. To newer listeners, it is a concise and powerful album, serving equal parts rampaging energy, fun.-inspired pop and American Idiot stylized anarchist lyrics.
Fans of the band’s past works may have a much harder time finding the love in this album that they had hoped for, but this is a much larger, more mature and enraged album than many past efforts.
The Used have altered their sound slightly for each album, introducing different elements and gradually making a light shift towards a poppier sound. Imaginary Enemy is first and foremost a pop album, despite leading with a heavy rock song like “Revolution”.
The Used have more or less abandoned the hard edge that made them famous, as well as the screams of vocalist Bert McCracken. If that alone deters you, you will not like this album, period. If you’re willing to still ride the ship out, Imaginary Enemy is an ambitious album that toys an expectation that hopes to rally the awareness of the evils in persecution and rampaging government.
As stated, this is a pop album. Several songs have a soft open, piano and synth play an integral part to a majority of the album and the screams are few and far between. That’s not to say that the sound is bad, it’s just different.
For being an album with the theme of revolution, it is quiet and stealthy. It feels like a lot of elements may be based off of the sound bands like fun. or the softer parts of Panic! At the Disco. Allegedly, the album was written “backwards” with the music written to accompany the already recorded vocals, which could explain the eccentric change in tone from this album and the rest of the discography.
That said, each song is surprising and unlike anything they’ve released thus far in their discography. The hooks are immaculate, varied and expertly executed. Quinn Allman’s guitar work is flawless and intricate, bringing to mind something akin to AFI’s Jade Puget on Crash Love. Even though he’s the only guitarist, he manages to keep the framework and sound of several musicians at once.
Jeph Howard’s bass guitar work keeps the hooks popping and never sounds dull, even in the slowest songs. Dan Whitesides’ drumming is hypnotic and incredibly powerful, dipping from the sounds of natural and electronic drums.
Opening track “Revolution” is the most punk song on the record, offering chugging chords and a brutal chorus designed to bring the pit to pure ecstasy. “A Song to Stifle Imperial Progression (A Work in Progress)” is one of the more bizarre songs on the record. It’s a fuzzed vocal punk song that suddenly turns into a disco-tinged dance song for an anarchist chorus of, “We’re saying no way, no way USA”.
Most of the middle section of the record is painted with soft rock and ballads, like the soft spoken “Evolution” with sprinkled keys of what sounds like a toy xylophone. “Kenna Song” features the gentle guitar strums of Jimmy Eat World backed by thunderous drumming and backing vocals made for indie pop radio.
My only real complaint with the sound is that it’s too overproduced. The music is a little too over the top, though it allows the piano and keys a beautiful groundwork to play over. However, a little more crunch and fuzz to the guitar and bass would have helped keep an edge to the music that loyal fans would’ve appreciated.
Lyrically, this is the most incendiary the band has ever been. The new political nature of the band is a welcome advancement in theme over the broken heart and overly tread emo lyrics in the genre. It’s much more provocative and enticing where it needs to be.
It’s a nice journey through the evolution in discovering the hatred of politics that runs full circle, from the opening choruses of, “This is the end, this is the end, calling for revolution”, to the confusion of “Imaginary Enemy” as McCracken sings, “Who taught me to hate you, hate you, hate you? Who created the enemy?”
While it’s easy to brush aside the lyrics as anti-government or anti-USA, there’s a deeper underlying ideology to it that focuses on the rage in not knowing who to be angry at, and being a generation falling in line because there isn’t anyone to focus that anger on. In “Force Without Violence”, he sings, “This brave opposition comes naturally, being exactly who we’re supposed to be / Things will never change if they remain the same, being exactly who we’re supposed to be”.
Imaginary Enemy is an album that shows a band leaving the comfort zone entirely, possibly for the better. If you were hoping for the next great hardcore record, keep looking. For anyone else, this is an incredibly surprising, sometimes cheesy, but powerfully mature record of pop songs and anger. To say the album will be divisive is an understatement; it’ll be remembered as their most disappointing record, or their greatest hour.
by Kyle Schultz
Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.