Bert McCracken wants to be the voice of a generation. It’s in every word he sings on ‘Imaginary Enemy’, the sixth studio full-length from The Used, positioning himself as a mouthpiece for discussing the big issues, the plight of our disaffected world. Will ‘generation throwaway’ stand up and scream with The Used? Sorry, Bert, but I think we’re going to pass.
The Used are survivors. The scene that birthed them has certainly seen better days, while their heyday contemporaries have fallen by the wayside. Still, they carry on, through mediocre and occasionally not-so-bad releases. ‘Imaginary Enemy’ finds itself in the latter category, with an unpalatable but undeniably infectious batch of politically charged pop-punk, emphasis on the pop.
Addressing a cause is a great way to elevate music. Finding a common goal that your audience can relate to is unifying. The problem that The Used have here is their tea-tray shallow approach to addressing their chosen issues (social unrest, alienation, revolution, the war on terror to name but a few). There isn’t any weight behind the words, no feeling that what Bert has chosen to say is really understood beyond a very basic level. Where other political bands like Anti-Flag and Rise Against bring their lyrics up from the gut like bile, purging themselves and making a convincing case in the process, The Used are far more lightweight.
It doesn’t help that ‘Imaginary Enemy’ is by far the band’s poppiest record. Whether it’s the saccharine chorus of ‘El-Oh-Vee-Ee’, the faux-uplifting jaunt of ‘Force Without Violence’, or the languid, Bieber-d , hand-clap-happy ‘Kenna Song’, it’s clear that all this sugar has made their punk teeth rot and fall out. If there’s one saving grace, it’s ‘A Song To Stifle Imperial Progression (A Work In Progress)’, which still has some bite. The riff is meaty and Bert‘s vocals are raw, before a shamelessly catchy chorus worthy of Miley Cyrus herself bursts in, making for a fun, guilty pleasure of a track.
‘Imaginary Enemy’ is a black sheep; too soft and sweet for the punk kids, too ugly and unrefined for the pop kids. It’s easy to appreciate their lofty intentions and they should be commended for wanting to create music with a message, but the execution is too unconvincing and vapid to land with the impact that it really needs.
Written by Grant Bailey