ALBUM REVIEW: The Lawrence Arms – Skeleton Coast (Epitaph Records)
For a band who were so prolific in their early days, with four albums in their first seven years, it’s fair to say The Lawrence Arms have eased off the gas a little.
There was an eight-year gap between 2006’s Oh! Calcutta! and their most recent studio record, 2014’s Metropole, and then another six years until this, their seventh full-length.
But if leaving such a lengthy hiatus between releases means they come up with records as good as this one, they can take as much time as they like over their next.
Like The Menzingers and The Bouncing Souls, The Lawrence Arms trade in heart-on-the-sleeve punk rock which features anger and melody in equal measure.
The trio consists of the same three guys who formed the band in Chicago back in 1999 – Brendan Kelly on bass and vocals, Chris McCaughan on guitar and vocals, and Neil Hennessy on drums.
But while they’ve mellowed a little with age, this album still contains all the elements of the sound that fans have grown to love, presented in a way which sounds perfectly aligned with these strange times.
Skeleton Coast has a dark undercurrent, imagining an apocalyptic future where coyotes croon and wolf packs roam free, and where loved ones and favourite places are just a memory.
Kelly’s rougher-edged voice contrasts with McCaughan’s smoother tones, and while the album as a whole has a rueful feel, there are moments of hope.
The opening Quiet Storm ushers in the bleakness from the off: “There is no past, there is no future, now free to live at last…”
Lead single PTA (Planes Trains and Automobiles), is full of urgency, while (The) Demon urges the listener to “get the fuck out out of here and fend for yourself”, and recent single Last Last Words is a standout song which sits alongside their very best work.
The frantic vocals of How To Rot harks back to their earliest days, while Goblin Fox Hunt warns “All you fucking goblins had better watch out, Once I calm down a bit it’s over for you,”
Lose Control, another highspot, is about being careful what you wish for, as McCaughan sings: “I watched the oceans drown every city/From my penthouse suite, I leave the TV on/The sound of the chatter keeps me from getting lonely/All the kids are gone.”
Skeleton Coast is a marvellous record, and one on which my favourite song changes every time I listen to it. How refreshing that a band so far into their career can come up with an album as good as this. Long live The Lawrence Arms. 8/10.