Back in the mid to late ‘90s, I did one of those small time punk rock mailorder distros that seemed to spring up around the place. I was importing records and selling them at punk shows because there was so many good records out there that I wanted people to hear. One of the singles I imported was the Alkaline Trio’s For Your Lungs Only – a four track EP that showed huge promise from this little known band from Illinois.
As time went on, Alkaline Trio released a bunch of great albums, they dabbled in Satanism and offended Christians with their on stage banter (“This song’s about Jesus Christ… it’s called Stupid Kid”), and last year they celebrated 15 years together with the release of Damnesia – an acoustic reworking of their favourite Alkaline Trio songs. Kinda like what Bon Jovi did with This Left Feels Right, only Alkaline Trio didn’t fuck up Lay Your Hands On Me or Living On A Prayer. Now key members Matt Skiba and Dan Andriano have both taken time out from the band and released their very own solo albums.
When I heard Matt Skiba had a new band and a solo album on the go, I was quite eager to hear it for a number of reasons. Firstly, I prefer Matt’s vocals over Dan’s in Alkaline Trio (I hear some of you crying out “blasphemy” but whatever). Secondly, I was curious to see what else he had in his repertoire of tunes to spew forth on to the world. So finally, ‘Babylon’ has landed and is it any good? If you were to read the reviews of his first ever show with his new solo band, The Sekrets, you’d be quick to dismiss ever wanting to hear it – simply put, the show was such a sloppy drunken fucked up mess that even the label has had any video footage of that show removed off of YouTube. I wasn’t quick enough to view it but from what I read, “a sloppy drunken fucked up mess” is putting it kindly. Still, I am not one to judge on a show I wasn’t even at so I put the album on and began listening.
First up is the debut single off the album, ‘Voices’, a solid tune with a huge chorus that is so darn catchy I found I was singing it to myself at even the most awkward of times (in the shower, at family gatherings, a friend’s 21st on Saturday night, etc.) while onlookers gave me that “what the fuck’s he on about?” look. I didn’t care. It was so damn good I couldn’t stop myself. This is pretty much how the rest of the album follows through. Each song, just as good as the last, resulting in ten songs of sensational melodies and incredible songwriting. I couldn’t believe my ears.
By the time the album gets to the fourth track, Haven’t You, things slow down a bit as Skiba hits power ballad territory in one of the best tunes on the album. If I smoked and owned a lighter, I would hold it sky high every time I heard it. The song You sounds like it could have been written by a ’90s Britpop band with its Oasis-esque chorus and Cure meets Manic Street Preachers style guitar work. I really love this track and when he calls out “Dance with me!” I pictured a scene from one of those shitty movies like 500 Days Of Summer. It just has that feel for it.
Falling Like Rain has a chorus so similar to the Alkaline Trio track Calling All Skeletons you’ll start singing the latter’s lyrics while How The Hell Did We Get Here is filled with driving rhythms giving you a sign that the album is coming to a close but not without one last big chorus to have you punching the sky like Bender does at the end of The Breakfast Club.
The album finishes with an acoustic track titled Angel Of Deaf (that’s pretty awesome, I’m sure Slayer would be proud). It’s a haunting number with enough heartbreak and sorrow to make any emo kid happier than throwing down their pocket money at Starbucks for an overpriced latte after school on a Friday night.
The use of keyboards throughout the album is a unique touch that separates this album from sounding like another Alkaline Trio record. Skiba is one talented soul and this album is probably his finest 33 minutes to date (the album clocks in at just under 37 minutes but the last song has 3 and a half minutes of a microphone hum tapped on the end so I don’t count that). If he keeps writing and releasing albums of this calibre some day we may see Skiba talked about in the same breath as Springsteen. Seriously, Babylon is one impressive record. I really hope that debut show was nothing more than first show nerves getting in the way of a good performance (yeah, I know, who am I kidding?) and he can pull himself together and deliver the show that this band appears to be capable of cos seriously, if they do, we’re in for a real treat cos this album is, so far, one of the best releases of 2012. I don’t know about that headdress though. That shit’s kinda rank.