With its preference of slower, mid-tempo songs to the thrashy, screamy hardcore material of their earlier years, Rise Against’s Appeal to Reason is their most accessible album of the five released to date. With such considered, it is probably their most controversial also, with fans currently being split on whether the band’s decision to open their music up to a wider audience is an indication of their willingness to grow or decline into pop-punk mediocrity.
Rise Against’s problem is that they’ve had four great albums prior to this, and expectations are pretty high. They reached their peak with Siren Song Of The Counter Culture, their third album, and had a strong follow up in 2006’s The Sufferer & The Witness. Reason is a very enjoyable album that grows on you with every listen, but you can’t help but think the band has produced better.
‘Collapse’ is a fast-paced, to-the-point protest song aimed at the United States administration — this is typically Rise Against, you might say, even if Tim McIIrath’s aggressive vocal screams are distinctly lacking. ‘Kotov Syndrome’ adopts a similar pace, and is about the decisions made by America’s leaders to go to war, which have resulted in the country being worse off than it was when it first started (“Try to recover, but collide with each other/ We spin out of control,” sings McIIrath).
The two most surprising songs on the album would have to be ‘From Heads Unworthy’ and the lead single, ‘Re-education (Through Labor)’. ‘Heads’ is written from the point of view of the children in a country, who look up to the government for help and inspiration, but end up being neglected and forgotten about. McIIrath’s lyrics are on point here in that they call for younger generations to take a stand in society and strive to regain control of their own lives. You can really feel his emotion when he sings “As your castles crumble slowly, we watch them fall/ The crown slips from heads unworthy, as we take control,” on the chorus.
The track ‘Re-education’ varies in sound to a majority of the band’s other songs down the years — in fact, upon the first few listens, it really doesn’t sound like Rise Against at all. Deploying hard power chords, there’s almost a classic ’80s rocky feel about it, but it’s definitely enjoyable and one for the Rise moshpits. Up-tempo anthems like ‘Entertainment’ and ‘Savior’ are also satisfying.
Mid-paced songs like ‘Long Forgotten Sons’, ‘Hairline Fracture’ and ‘The Strength To Go On’, however, are unspectacular by Rise Against’s standards, and sound all too similar to one another. Things go slower with ‘Audience Of One’, which seems to be depicting change on a personal and political level (the latter theory is enhanced in the video); and even slower with ‘Hero Of War’, an acoustic anti-war song depicting the story of a patriotic solider in Iraq.
‘Hero Of War’, particularly, is the album’s biggest letdown. I recall McIIrath’s prelude to the song at a recent gig in Manchester where he said “The best way to support the troops is to not send them into war.” That’s commendable, but the lyrics of the actual song that accompany his stripped down guitar sound and Brandon Barnes’ military drum percussion are incredibly corny by his standards:
“I kicked in the door and yelled my commands/ The children they cried but I got my man/ I took him away, a bag over his face/ From his family and friends/ They took off his clothes, they pissed in his hands/ I told them to stop, but then I joined in/ We beat him with guns, and batons not just once/ but again and again.”
Appeal To Reason may lack the angst and the edge of previous Rise Against releases (that came most notably with Tim’s screaming), and may be the band’s weakest record to date, but it’s still a pretty decent album. Some might accuse them of “selling out” (whatever that really means) for attempting to increase awareness of their music by appealing to a wider audience, but there’s still a sufficient amount of uplifting Rise Against anthems here to keep the existing fans satisfied.