If you ever had a love affair with emo, especially if that affair was roughly a decade ago, there’s a very high chance that you spent a lot of time crushing on The Used. I certainly did. The first time I listened to In Love And Death I was hooked. I went back and listened to their self titled debut, and I loved that too. They released Lies For The Liars and I couldn’t put it down. They haven’t stopped releasing music either, with Bert McCracken and crew solidly releasing records every 2 or 3 years since 2002. The newest addition to their catalogue is The Canyon, and it showcases a slightly different version of the band than we’re used to. This is a very stripped down and honest album, both lyrically and musically. The record has been entirely recorded on tape without the use of a click or a backing track, so everything that you hear is essentially how it would sound live. The lyrics are an insight into McCracken’s psyche, boasting some really heavy and emotionally powerful moments. This album steps into territory that the band haven’t stepped into before, and is just as much of a journey for them as it is for us. And what a wonderful journey it is.
Album opener For You immediately plucks at the heartstrings. It’s unusual for the first song of an album to be soft and stripped back, but I can’t help but feel this has been done on purpose. The whole album is honest and heartfelt, and what’s more heartfelt than a single acoustic guitar, some tasteful background strings and McCracken’s voice cracking as he sings “Every single song I ever sing is for you”. It sets the rest of the record to be an emotional rollercoaster, and it most certainly is. This first track is one of the softest on the album, with almost every track following it being more reminiscent of the band we’ve come to know over the years. Lead single Over And Over Again is an infectious nugget of pop tinged gold, featuring a slick guitar lick in the verses and an unforgettable chorus. Pretty Picture shows off McCracken’s control of his voice as he navigates through a variety of notes in the verses and choruses. The dynamics on show here are great too, the rises and falls all masterfully used to create atmosphere and tension throughout. Selfies In Aleppo begins with a George Orwell quote before introducing a dark gain soaked driven lick, creeping and tip-toeing towards an enormous guitar driven chorus. Rise Up Lights is an up tempo punky belter jam packed with with crowd friendly “whoa” chants and steadily paced drums driving everything forwards.
The best tracks on the album, in my opinion, can be found towards the end of the album. The Nexus begins with a choir echoing a gospel-esque harmony, with everything that follows it sounding like a mixture of blues and really dark rock and roll. There’s some seriously tasty guitar work in this track in the form of catchy riffs and a really cleverly written lead section, constantly shifting and evolving before coming to a close with the very same choir harmony it began with. Moon Dream is a truly beautiful track, featuring a complete string ensemble. It’s no secret that The Used have a softer side, but we haven’t been shown anything quite this indulgent and sophisticated before. The music is soaring and almost scenic, painting a picture of its own whilst McCracken drapes his sultry tones over the strings. Album closer The Mouth Of The Canyon is a perfect end, using all the elements shown in the songs running up to it to tie the whole album together. The entire song is one big build towards a giant chorus, which in turn builds towards an absolute mammoth of a section crammed full of cowbells (no such thing as too much cowbell) and riffs. The song then slowly drifts into silence, with the album fading out after the lyrics “Before I begged to feel anything at all. Now, at least, I feel alone”.
This album is a mixture of things, and I mean that as a positive. During the listen I got an enormous sense of nostalgia. The record is very reminiscent of the version band I fell in love with as a teenager, and is full of so many moments that would’ve quite easily slotted onto any of the first 3 albums. The nod to their roots is clear, but this record is also very mature. Everything about this record screams honesty, from the lyrics and their delivery to the music and how it was all recorded. McCracken’s lyrics have always been great, but this album boasts the best of his career so far, oozing with intelligence and passion in each line. Considering that this was recorded without any backing tracks or guide of any sort, this record is also incredibly polished. The stripped back and more old school approach to the recording makes it all feel a lot more personal. It’s very easy to connect with. Every song on this record has its own individual vibe and feel, yet they manage to maintain a sense of familiarity that tie them all together. The Used have created a very special record with The Canyon. If you listen to this album and don’t get lost in it, there’s something wrong with your speakers.