REVIEW: The Used – Vulnerable

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Artist: The Used
Album: Vulnerable
Genre: Rock, post-hardcore
Label: Hopeless, Anger Music Group

It’s been a while since we heard from The Used. Or at least, that’s how it seems to me. Their last album, Artwork surfaced in 2009 and, some digital EPs aside, record label quandaries have delayed the release of anything further until now. The Used were a stalwart of the scene I grew up with, due in large part to their friendship (and later falling out with) My Chemical Romance. While the latter have gone on to achieve prominence on a global scale, their former compatriots in excess seem to have been off the radar for aeons. It is pleasing then to be able to praise Vulnerable profusely. It’s an excellent record and a fine effort with which to mark their return. It has the same penchant for hedonistic excess and visceral pop rock that made their name, but is not without quirks in its instrumentation and arrangements. Considering the extent of their hiatus, it’s probably not the mind-blowing release that some would have liked, but there is a lot to be said for taking something familiar and lovable and fashioning it into a worthy comeback.

Though there are many bands of the ilk of The Used, they’ve never had their key distinguishing factor. Distinctive voices tend to be rare in rock music in general (and in the more plastic reaches of the scene, almost mythically elusive), but Bert McCracken has always stood out. He adopts a shriller, cleaner tone than many of his compatriots, even when singing more aggressively. This in turn adds an intricate and indefinable characteristic that allows The Used to stand out, and deservedly so, amongst their peers. McCracken’s vocals lead Vulnerable impressively and add a glistening charisma to the kookier orchestral elements used throughout.

“I Come Alive” has something of a warped fairy tale vibe when it opens, the verses playing around with effects and adding a sense of fun to the keenly emotional words. The chorus doesn’t quite wrap everything together, opting for slightly nervous and rushed guitar work with a somewhat tired beat. The final breakdown is, however, enthralling – a sweeping and chaotic finale that marks the first of what will become a key feature throughout the album. “This Fire” offsets harangued violins with curious, spiralling keys to maintain a cheeky and vivacious tone. The song proper is ferocious and completely at odds with this playful opening. It rips mercilessly by before culminating in an excellent final verse, bringing the strings and guitars together with madcap vocals to riveting effect.

Other songs bypass this adventurous set up in favour of straightforward, corrosive riffs and gruelling rhythm. “Put Me Out” is magnificent, its energetic opening giving way to a raucous, emphatic beat that stands out beautifully. The bass is more prominent on this track and adds a smooth clarity. “Now That You’re Dead” is similarly and maddeningly intoxicating. The drums are faster, more in line with their punk origins, and there’s a barrage of hare-brained vocals and backing effects to add to the deranged style. It’s anarchic but works seamlessly, illustrating in its destructive power that which the band do best. “Kiss It Goodbye” is also chaos and bedlam, and all the more riveting as it follows an awkward ballad. It’s loud, insistent, waxes and wanes beautifully and enthrals throughout with a collision course of sounds, all married together by strong vocals.

There are a few blips on the radar. The aforementioned ballad, “Getting Over You,” certainly sounds sincere but is too formulaic and predictable to endear. “Shine” is also quite derivative. It has some compelling moments but everything, even the lyrics, seem too familiar. The midsection is good but fractured from the rest of the song and this makes the track as a whole sound incomplete.

“Hurt No More” reinvigorates the album’s final throes somewhat. It feels big in scope and the lyrics express caution and remorse. In an odd way, it seems introspective and personal despite its swelling sound – the guitars seem to echo with turmoil or bitterness, even as the drums add edge and suspense with their cataclysmic rolls. Surprisingly, the band then opts for an acoustic, softer conclusion. “Together Burning Bright” is exposed and wavering, its disembodied vocals and overstated piano lending it a great deal of intensity. It seems like too safe a choice on which to end the album but it is hopeful and endearing, and its sense of inclusiveness will undoubtedly go down very well live.

Vulnerable mightn’t be quite ambitious enough to satisfy some but it is an excellent album. It doesn’t have the raw virility of their earlier years but it is boisterous and frank, teaming with the darkness and passion that so defines their work. Adding copiously to their arsenal of exhilarating, intoxicating anthems, this should thrust The Used firmly back within the spotlight for the foreseeable future.

SCORE: 8/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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  • I’m not there with you on this one. Artwork was their second best album (next to self-titled) in my opinion…Vulnerable just seems to regress to the Lies for the Liars sound…

  • Erik

    Lies for the liars was my least favorite album and I loved artwork … This one is really good I was afraid they were gonna fall off but it seems they are right back on top of their game :)