Alkaline Trio's 'return to form' isn't one 

Don't call it a comeback

When This Addiction, the seventh studio album from Chicago's Alkaline Trio, was released last month, it sold more than 25,000 copies in the first week, landing at No. 11 on the album charts, a personal best.

But this accomplishment was hardly a singular occurance. In fact, Alkaline Trio's albums have generally charted higher with each subsequent release, ever since From Here to Infirmary — the band's third LP — cracked the Top 200 in 2001. And all the appropriate steps were followed to continue this path of success. From Here to Infirmary solidified the band's prominence on the strong indie label Vagrant. That support carried for two more albums — 2003's Good Mourning and 2005's Crimson. The success of those albums gave way to major label recognition and the release of 2008's Agony & Irony.

Now, the buzz would have you believe This Addiction is some kind of return to form for the band, a shedding of its major label polish highlighted by the band's indiedom (in this case punk-pop stalwart Epitaph Records). And indeed, Alkaline Trio's return to an indie label (kind of, as Epitaph has all the major distribution networks of a major) is indicative of the fact that major labels are struggling while indie labels step in to fill the gaps. Tell us something we don't know.

What This Addiction is not is a stylistic circling-back. Sure, after 10-plus years, some of the Trio's fans are nostalgic for the rougher sound and unhinged precociousness the still-forming Alkaline Trio displayed on records like Goddamnit and Maybe I'll Catch Fire. And This Addiction will satisfy some of their cravings. But not all. The fact remains, in the intermediate decade, the band has lost and gained members, honed its sound and songwriting voice, and gathered the practiced precision a decade of professional touring and recording provides.

The band's calling cards are flashed proudly, spinning pun-heavy lyrics ("Dine, Dine My Darling") that taste like Velveeta. Singer/guitarist Matt Skiba and singer/bassist Dan Andriano complement each other, Andriano offering lighter shades of dark to Skiba's thematic gloom. But the sense of melody that was developing through the early — and still fan-favorite — stages of the band's career is now fully formed.

But as the ska-lite trumpet on "Lead Poisoning" and the '80s-pop synthesizers on "Eating Me Alive" can attest, Alkaline Trio hasn't lost its appetite for filling the space between palm-muted chords.

It's not a return to the garage days, even if the songs feel more attuned to the early era's energy than the major-label era's studio sheen and more-than-a-trio lushness.

This is not a critique, though. As Alkaline Trio has aged, its lingering flaws (those awful puns) have become endearing; its formula has been perfected; its reach has grown. This is, after all, the type of career every band hopes for. When a writer for The Los Angeles Times called This Addiction Alkaline Trio's "best album in years," it was not a false statement. It is.

But it is not Goddamnit, Vol. II.

There's a moment early in the aforementioned "Eating Me Alive" where Skiba declares, "Now you're stuck in my head like a love song/That climbed to the top of the charts." When the fans sing it back toward the stage, they'll mean it. It's the kind of lyrics fans of Alkaline Trio have scrawled on the toe-caps of their Chuck Taylor high-tops and notebook margins for more than a decade.

But unlike Trio songs past, when those passionate fans sing along to "Eating Me Alive," they'll be making the metaphor literal, addressing the band they've watched climb to a No. 11 spot on release-week.

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