Album Review :
Man Alive - Man Alive

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Artist: Man Alive
Album: Man Alive
Label: B& Recordings/Doghouse Records (US)
Buy: The IVM Store
Review by the Headless Horseman.

1. If You Breathe, You Bleed
2. The Things Left Worth Dying For
3. In Spite of All
4. Invincible
5. Stick Around
6. Mission Abort
7. Morningside
8. Laugh or Cry
9. Until Somebody Screams
10. Proud To Be Un-American
11. Myth vs. Fact

There’s something great about listening to the artists we can still unabashedly call punk.

Before I go on, let me clarify that: I am not here referring to bands like Black Flag, whom I would consider hardcore. Black Flag, while important in their own way, really aren’t much fun to listen to. I am also not referring to bands like Relient K and Fall Out Boy, who play pop music with semi-distorted guitars. These bands, while certainly fun in their way, don’t really carry over the heart or the energy found in punk and often sound like their music exists only to sell the hooks; they come off as somewhat manufactured. (This is truly an age of style over substance, a prioritization we attribute mercilessly but often correctly to today’s powerpop and pop-punk bands.) Bands I’m referring to include (in the secular realm) the Lawrence Arms, Social Distortion, Face to Face, No Motiv, Leatherface, Against Me!, and (in the “Christian music” realm) Too Bad Eugene/Thrush, Ace Troubleshooter, Hangnail, Ghoti Hook, MxPx, and Dogwood. You get the type I’m talking about? Good. Where was I?

The beauty of listening to today’s punk music is that the listener doesn’t sacrifice either intelligence and competence or catchiness and memorability for the sake of the other. Hangnail wrote as a matter of course hooks every bit as good as those of Relient K, but they didn’t sound cute while doing it. Ghoti Hook made you think a lot more than Hawk Nelson does (see “Mach 3,” “Lullaby”), and even so their songs would stick in your head for days on end. Sadly most of these bands are gone from the Christian music scene today. Lamenting the direction Tooth & Nail Records has taken in the latter part of this decade has become the cool thing to do, but even so, it’s hard to look back and not wish that some of that style had remained. The departure of punk from Tooth & Nail paralleled its departure from prominence in Christian music in general.

Into this kind of a scene enter Man Alive. They’re a rad Israeli punk band. They follow in the footsteps of the bands listed above. They’re very catchy. They write anthems that can make you contemplate, make you believe, as well as make you sing at the top of your lungs. On their fourth CD, they tear through an entirely enjoyable, often even an epic half-hour of unforgettable hooks, poignant lyrics, and some truly impressive guitar playing (“Invincible,” “Mission Abort,” “Morningside”) with hardly a misstep; only the somewhat plodding “Stick Around” feels out of place, and in large part it redeems itself with a catchy guitar riff and a solid chorus.

While Man Alive isn’t the kind of record that you can pigeonhole as a “summer album” — this seems to be reserved for cutesy powerpop albums short on substance and theoretically long on fun — plenty of these songs won’t be out of place when pedestrian hear them emanating from your car stereo. Arguably the album’s best song, “In Spite of All,” an anthem about loving an unlovable friend, has a hook that’s just dying to be played for everyone you know. Punchy cuts like “The Things Left Worth Dying For” and “Mission Abort” should also be quite enough to get your toes tapping and your hands air-drumming within a few seconds.

Make no mistake, however: Man Alive write with substance and meaning. They take on tough issues — and I don’t mean tough issues like feeling down or being dumped by your girlfriend. I mean tough issues like youth being brainwashed by militant Islam (“Myth vs. Fact”). I mean tough issues like many of the people in America renouncing personal accountability for their actions and forgetting the principles this country is founded on (“Proud To Be Un-American” — Note: this is the meaning of the title; the band is presumably asking us “What makes you so proud to be un-American?”). Tough issues like the soul’s struggle between good and evil (“Mission Abort”) and inevitable sorrow even in a universe where God promises to make everything right in the end (“If You Breathe, You Bleed”). In fact, “Laugh or Cry,” arguably the album’s other best song, contains one of my favorite lyrics of all time: “I don’t want to see you through these clouded eyes…[I] wanna live forever, but a different life.” You’ve been warned: Man Alive aren’t content to just be playing in your stereo. They want to challenge you.

I remember discussing in the forums a while back why no artists that played with the energy and the heart of those on labels like Fat Wreck Chords are prominent in the Christian music scene today. Man Alive are a band like that, and what’s more, they have a message to bring. This record’s very catchy and very fun to listen to, but it may take you a while to get into like it did for me. But this is a band that’s really worth listening to, not only because they give secular counterparts like the Lawrence Arms and Against Me! a run for their money — and believe me, in my opinion, that’s a huge compliment — but because they bring profound thought into a genre that often lacks it. This one will almost certainly make my Albums of the Year list, because when it’s done not only competently but in exemplary fashion, punk music makes for a really awesome listen.

Rating: 9/10
Standout Tracks: “In Spite of All,” “Mission Abort,” “Laugh or Cry,” “Myth vs. Fact”
RIYL: Hangnail, No Motiv, Too Bad Eugene, Ace Troubleshooter, Against Me!