Friday, May 27, 2011

Against Me! - 'Total Clarity'

Initially, Against Me!’s new demo collection Total Clarity looks exactly like 2009’s The Original Cowboy, that is, a companion piece one of the band’s proper studio albums. But they’re actually divergent in content. Original Cowboy is, arguably, a superior, more raw performance of the material that became Eternal Cowboy. Total Clarity instead offers lesser quality versions of old material, boosted by some tunes that have never been available commercially.

Total Clarity does not best Searching For a Former Clarity. But it is an interesting curio for the most devoted AM! fan. Some tunes, like “Miami” and “Searching For a Former Clarity,” here retitled “Total Clarity,” sound about the same as their finished versions, minus audio fidelity and a lyric tweak or two. Other tunes, like “Mediocrity Gets You Pears (The Shaker)” and “How Low,” actually do sound different enough, either through a tempo shift or a new approach to the chorus. But these demos aren’t on par Original Cowboy. That release faster, louder, and angrier, therefore making it better. Total Clarity is built on reference tracks that don’t quite warrant a separate release.

The collection’s selling point, then, is the “new” material. Total Clarity boasts two previously unreleased tunes, plus a cover of The Brains’ “Money Changes Everything.” The cover is pretty catchy. “Exhaustion & Disgust” is pretty thoroughly OK. It sounds on par with the kind of songs AM! was writing at the time, but compared to Searching’s solid tracklisting, I understand why it was left off. Searching was essentially AM!’s Lola Versus Powerman, an indictment of the music business and music fans alike, but “Exhaustion” is a little too on-the-nose. Besides, “Problems” and “Even at Our Worst We're Still Better Than Most (The Roller)” are catchier.

The other new old track, “Lost and Searching in America,” might have had a chance though. As is, it’s a little muddled lyrically and musically, but there are some great parts that could have been scavenged for another song. That intro is just fireworks. “Lost” was maybe a revision or two away from being great; as is, it’s a couple of good verses in search of a chorus.

Original Cowboy at least kind of made sense, even if it was still a cash grab on Fat Wreck Chords’ part. Total Clarity is a little less essential, although diehards will surely be grateful for the smidgeon of new music, at least until the new AM! seven-inch drops next month.

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