The Classic Crime - Phoenix

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Phoenix

Artist: The Classic Crime (Bandcamp) (iTunes)
Title: 
Phoenix
Label:
none
Release Date:
8/14/12
Reviewer: 
Carter Fraser

Tracklisting:

  1. One Man Army
  2. You and Me Both
  3. Young Again
  4. Beautiful Darkside
  5. Heaven and Hell
  6. Precipice
  7. Let Me Die
  8. Glass Houses
  9. Dead Rose
  10. Painted Dreams
  11. What I’d Give Up
  12. City of Orphans
  13. I Will Wait

There’s this wonderfully self-aware moment halfway through Phoenix where Matt MacDonald admits, “I dreamt I stood on a hill that I wished was a mountain / to look back on all my accomplishments / well they must have been small because I couldn’t seem to find them / so I took a leap off of the precipice,” completely summing up every word and sentiment on the entire album. Every moment up to this point has sounded mildly forced, but it’s “Precipice” that sees MacDonald and company seemingly conscious of this. As MacDonald sings, “I stood on a hill that I wished was a mountain,” you realize that he is reflecting back on his career, and he isn’t where he wanted to be six years ago when he wrote Albatross. You begin to realize that when he said, “I may not ever see a dime but I’ll be fine / yeah I still get by! / all the time a smile on my face,” he might not have completely meant it. Now, he means it. I mean, the man recently wrote an EP with his wife admittedly to raise money for their first baby. He doesn’t dream of being a rock star anymore. Now, Matt MacDonald is just your average Joe, even if that’s what he’s been trying to convince us of for years. And Phoenix is all the better for it.

Where Vagabonds saw The Classic Crime performing too lackadaisically, Phoenix sees them doing the exact opposite: trying very, very hard. The first half of Phoenix exhibits levels of grandeur never seen in a Classic Crime album. While it’s still pop punk at it’s core, it takes itself very seriously. The problem here is that they never seem comfortable, with the lyrics being the telltale signs. While lines like, “and you wonder why my eyes don’t leave my phone!” may be very realistic, they also comes off as a bit immature. That’s not to say this first half is bad by any means, for example “Heaven and Hell” is among the best songs of their career. The entire section just sounds forced. Which is why, contextually, “Precipice” is absolutely brilliant; it essentially acknowledges and explains the first half of Phoenix… and the second. Because when MacDonald concludes with “so I took a leap off of the precipice,” he is essentially preluding what’s to come: classic, Classic Crime.

Tracks 7 to 11 are rare examples of a band reflecting on their successes and shortcomings without any bitterness or frustration, only acceptance, perseverance and youthful exuberance. It’s essentially the same thing they’ve done all their careers, but performed with as much skill and wisdom as ever before. “Glass Houses” is the best, with its sweeping, anthemic chorus bringing to mind memories of “The Way That You Are,” with aggressive, catchy gang chants to boot. “Painted Dreams” and “What I’d Give Up” are highlights as well, with their nostalgic, catchy simplicity. The effective closer “City of Orphans” is everything you would expect from The Classic Crime after their last two closers, a soaring epic with the reflective mood of Phoenix, but with an outward perspective. Its beautiful, heartwarming, storytelling lyricism sets up a majestic climax that rivals any song they’ve ever produced.

Overall: The somewhat cliché title—Phoenix—in the end makes perfect sense. It’s a seemingly obvious allusion to their attempts to resurrect their career, but at the same time you get the feeling that it’s also a direct reference to their other avian album, Albatross, and what Albatross represented. It symbolizes their attempt to return to the naivety and energy of their roots, but with years of experience now under their belts. Hopefully this isn’t the end for The Classic Crime, though the world-weary tone might make you fear that it is. If it is, it’s an excellent way to go out.

RIYL: House of Heroes, Anberlin, Search the City, Brand New, Taking Back Sunday