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…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead: Worlds Apart

Interscope, 2005

Rating: 3.0


Posted: January 26, 2005

By Laurence Station

Those hoping that Worlds Apart, by Austin rock outfit ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead (TOD), is a song-for song tribute to Saga's similarly titled 1981 album (featuring the Canadian band's breakthrough single "On the Loose") are out of luck. Though TOD's Worlds Apart has its pop-prog moments, it still exhibits the macerated beats and screaming vocals fans have come to expect. The differences, however, are more unsettling.

On the title track, TOD's principal singer-songwriter Conrad Keely rails against everything from the mediocre music scene to the lame programming choices on MTV. Here we have the classic case of biting the hand that feeds you: TOD, now with Interscope, and beneficiary of an enormous promotional campaign (including videos for that lame network Keely so passionately disses) apparently still wants everyone to know who's calling the shots. Of course, to truly manage that feat, you'd have to stick with a smaller label, or go the true D.I.Y. route and distribute records personally via shows or online.

Besides, despite complaining about the wasteland of the modern radio dial, Keely and his bandmates haven't exactly raised the bar. The aforementioned title track, for all its anti-corporate blather, is essentially a three-minute pop song that just needs to have a few snotty expletives scrubbed clean. "Let It Dive" is a contrived prog anthem, just baiting Bic-wavers to hoist their lighters toward the rafters. "The Rest Will Follow" ponders humanity's capacity for good and evil, impelled by a spacious prog-rock vibe and some heroic drumming. Prior TOD albums (including the group's first Interscope release, Source Tags & Codes) maintained a uniform integrity. Even those songs that sounded like radio hits ("Relative Ways") still came across as TOD originals, rather than watered-down treacle couched to reach the largest possible demographic.

Lyrics continue to remain TOD's weak link: This is especially evident on "A Classic Arts Showcase," featuring the clunky couplet "Voiceovers rise like minarets / Then fall diatonically." The blandly titled "The Best" opens with the inscrutable, awkward line "The mime's conceit has conquered over real beauty / Grinning from a mask of hollowed bone." Musically, the group has moments of genuine creativity ("Caterwaul," with its tight rhythm section, comes to mind), and it's obvious TOD has the chops to make, if not an unqualified masterpiece, at least a work that's distinctive and laudable.

"Will You Smile Again" is the high point here -- too bad it comes so early (it's the album's second track). Keely doesn't sing about anything particularly memorable (vague references to dreams and art predominate), but the song, all horns and tumult, genuinely rocks. There's no sense that suits from Interscope meddled with the structure; the band is allowed to indulge its passion for thermodynamically charged riffs and crashing percussion.

Worlds Apart is the first TOD album that sounds like it was influenced by a marketing department. And that's what makes Keely's title-track tirade feel so disingenuous. If you're going to go for the brass ring, go all out. Make those radio-friendly hits. Swing for the fences. Otherwise, all you've got is a compromised assemblage occupying the murky netherworld between art and commerce. Worlds apart, indeed.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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