New Surrender, I thought it was a great album title. Very fitting for Stephen Christian, Anberlin’s very intelligent and passionate front man. Leading up to the release of New Surrender, I quickly devoured any tidbit of information or clip I could find regarding the new record. What I especially enjoyed, was Christian’s explanation of the new album. Even the title sounded different, like a solid maturation and step in a new direction. Needless to say, I was excited for the new album. Unfortunately, I must say I am somewhat disappointed in Anberlin’s latest work. Don’t get me wrong, I love this album. I knew I would. Anberlin grabbed the reigns of my musical sled just a few years ago. Since then, I’ve delved into all their albums and become way too familiar with their music and who they are as a band. Maybe it’s this familiarity and knowledge of their skill and Christian’s intelligence that left me expecting more from New Surrender.
While Anberlin has always matured from album to album, I always felt the steps were small. This makes perfect sense for a band still finding their footing, but with a band like Anberlin who could never quite cut ties with some very unfortunate labels of our musical generation (emo, pop punk), I always hoped their skill and intelligence, as musicians would push them just far enough to stand out to where they belong. Overall, New Surrender is a solid Anberlin album and rock record in general, but it is still the same short stride forward we’ve seen over their past records.
Enough babbling. What does New Surrender offer the listener?
As anyone would agree, The Resistance is a great way to kick off the album. While very reminiscent of past rockers like Paperthin Hymn and Godspeed, there is an undeniable passionate and solid craftsmanship that shape this song. It is definitely one of the highlights of the album.
The second track, Breaking is another solid tune, that really bridges gap between Anberlin’s harder rockers and the softer ballads. Track 3, Blame Me! Blame Me! is one of the few tracks that show an attempt at experimentation, noticeably in its fast paced chorus driven by quick chords and a solid disco style drum beat.
As many fans know, Anberlin re-recorded Feel Good Drag. While most bands fail at capturing the original power while redoing a song, they manage to keep most of the soul in the song and delivering nuances at the same time. One thing I do miss is the scream at the bridge. I’m usually no fan of screams, but Christians passionate outburst during the bridge of Feel Good Drag will be missed in this new version.
The following track Disappear holds its own and manages to showcase Anberlin’s slow but steady trek into new musical territories.
Retrace is by all means a solid Anberlin anthem but very similar to past songs such as The Symphony of Blasé and Inevitable.
While I’m a sucker for great melodic, emotional and powerful anthems like those that Anberlin is perfect at making, I was hoping that some of the experimentation and variation that the band claimed would show up would have actually show its face in these songs. The same goes for Younglife, Haight St. Burn out Bright and Breathe. While very enjoyable to listen to, I feel that at this point Anberlin should have shed its teenage skin. While addressing girls and memories isn’t exclusive to a band’s younger albums, I believe that way in which they are addressed and written about should definitely mature.
If there is one area I feel Christian could improve, it would be lyrics. While what he lacks in his lyrics he makes up for in raw passion and a powerful voice, he would be unstoppable were he to perfect both ends of the spectrum. This is one aspect of New Surrender that really disappointed me. For those unfamiliar with Christian as a person, he is a very positive and worldly figure. He makes it a point to be educated, to challenge himself and to strive for truth and clarity. I was hoping his travels in the past few years and maturation of subject matter would make more of an impact on the variation in their songs and his lyrics as well.
While I was disappointed, not all is lost. His lyrics, as well as the music, do shine more than usual on the two closing tracks Soft Skeletons, which addresses the drug use of a girl trapped by her addictions, and Misearble Visu (Ex Malo Bonum) which delivers in the vein of Anberlin’s famous epic album closers.
But a record is more than songwriting, band chemistry, lyrics and delivery. Production plays a huge role in how the songs are portrayed and perceived by listeners. This is also where I feel Anberlin really needs to step out of the box. Production quality has never been an issue their records, however the steps in clarity and fidelity are as short as their strides in songwriting and experimentation.
I have always felt that their songs sounded thin. While a distinctive sound on record can be an advantage, I feel it’s a burden in Anberlin’s case. The guitar tones, drums sounds, reverbs and most other aspects have remained nearly identical on every album. While New Surrender showcases the most clarity and distinction in their sound, I feel that maybe a new approach to production and sounds would greatly benefit the band. Adding some warmth, some grit and maybe some imperfections would really lend itself to the very human qualities that Christian shows as a front man and in his lyrics.
Overall, New Surrender is a solid and enjoyable rock album in the vein of what any Anberlin fan is looking for. Despite all my complaints, this album already has quite a high play count in my iTunes library. I will always be an avid fan of Anberlin, largely due to Christian’s passion and genuine qualities as a musician and person. Maybe next time Anberlin will really let some new ideas, sounds and lyrics shape their songs. Until then, I will continue to enjoy Anberlin’s catalogue as I have been for years now.