The Used is:
Bert McCracken – vocals, keyboards
Quinn Allman – guitar
Jeph Howard – bass
Dan Whitesides – drums
The Used – Imaginary Enemy
4. A Song to Stifle Imperial Progression (A Work in Progress)
5. Generation Throwaway
6. Make Believe
8. Imaginary Enemy
9. Kenna Song
10. Force Without Violence
Running time: 44:11
After a number of well-received records, The Used's Imaginary Enemy is the band's first album since the middling Vulnerable, released in 2012, and the band's sixth full length studio offering overall. The original writing for the record was scrapped, according to the band, and that resulted in the band taking an approach to write that was completely new them by writing the lyrics first, recording the vocals and then coming up with the music. Typically when a band scraps an album there's then a rush to come up with something new and that can have a detrimental effect on the overall product. But with long-term producer John Feldmann back at the heln, there's no obvious reason why Imaginary Enemy cannot succeed in adding to an already accomplished back catalogue.
Despite Feldmann slated to produce the debut album from the next One Direction, 5 Seconds of Summer, the producer typically works with band's of The Used's ilk. In recent years he has worked with the likes of Blitz Kids, We Are the In Crowd, Escape the Fate and Heaven's Basement. Unsurprisingly, Imaginary Enemy follows a formula that fans of the band will be familiar with. The last Used album I truly invested in was 2009''s Artwork, as well as all of the band's previous efforts, and the first thing you realised upon first listen is that this isn't a band known for it's progressive sound, despite song titles “Revolution” and “Evolution.” Sticking to what works isn't necessarily always a bad thing though.
Amongst the album's themes are matters both personal and political. In tracks like the aforementioned album-opener “Revolution,” the enigmatic Bert McCracken issues a call to arms to a generation that seems overwhelmingly apathetic. Quite exactly what McCracken and the boys continue to rally against is unclear and has remained so since their early days when they were offering similar fist-pumpers. You cannot fault The Used for offering such energetic chaos though, as the delivery is pretty much spot on throughout even if the meaning is muddled at times. A track like “A Song to Stifle...” with its furious rallies of “we're singing no way... no way USA!” is going to undoubtedly sound great from the pits but it's devoid of any meaning deeper than a general idea that we're all a bit fed up.
Indeed, there's plenty of fury in the album's eleven tracks, but the aggression here seems somewhat scattered. Perhaps channeling such emotions in a more positive manner would allow for a more streamlined record that portrays a clear message. Instead we get track after track ironically demanding revolt and yet the sound we're being offered is as pedestrian as the lives of the mundane teenagers The Used are attempting to inspire. These tracks are typified by these raging guitars that chug along undeterred. “Generation Throwaway” offers a nice opening singalong before dwindling with the same confused themes that the title suggested it would. The chorus is a bit more care-free but that seems to go against the whole idea. Bret McCracken seems to condemn the unopinionated one minute before celebrating the uncaring masses the next. We can ignore all the problems around us on a personal and global scale so long as we have a few hand-clap choruses to get us through.
Elsewhere there are more personal offerings in the lead single “Cry,” brought out of mediocrity by a more stirring vocal offering from McCracken. “Make Believe” takes a bit longer to get going but it's a worthwhile journey. The latter track is all about leaving past relationships behind us, particularly those that weren't all that good for us in the first place. Again, it's themes we've heard before not just from similar bands but from The Used in the past. In this instance the song thrives thanks to its energy and the confident with which McCracken oozes from behind the microphone stand, but it's still all a bit contrived and uninspired. “Kenna Song” is another slow burner that sparkles in its opening notes, almost sounding out of place on a Used record. When we inevitably move up through the gears the track hits a stride that Imaginary Enemy rarely reaches. I makes these moments all the more appreciated, but that's hardly the aim.
The Used - “Cry”
The 411: The idea of a rock band with punk routes delving into the political spectrum is nothing new or original – it's been done to the point that it has practically become a gimmick for band's looking to add a new dynamic to their sound without actually having to change the style or way in which they right. When the music is inspired enough this ploy can be overlooked – take Green Day's American Idiot as a prime example. The Used on other hand, bring very little to the table in terms of actually having anything interesting to say, not does Imaginary Enemy present the band's views in a particularly interesting manner. The record is aptly titled as the band rallies against nothing or no-one in particular. The songs range from mildy catchy and enthusiastic to disappointingly stagnant and as such Imaginary Enemy fails to achieve anything outside of providing middle of the road 21st century punk rock music.