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The Used - Lies for the Liars Review

by Mark Hensch

Few albums so far this year have as frequently frustrated, depressed, or annoyed me as this one. Listen after listen, day after day, I find myself trying to truly appreciate and/or enjoy the fruits of the Used on offer here but I simply cannot. The center of this dissatisfaction lies in three central points, the likes of which will follow in clear dissection so as to leave no doubt as to the final score for this review.

First and foremost, the strange departure of drummer Branden Steineckert in 2006 has left a gap or two in the band's proverbial armor. Steineckert was kicked out of the band with little to no publicized reason, and the capable dynamics of the energetic skinsman are sorely missed on Lies for the Liars. It is not that Dan Whitesides (formerly of New Transit Direction) isn't a sound replacement; it seems that the departure of Steineckert forced the band into a more guitar/keys oriented direction, the likes of which requires stable and straightforward percussion in exchange for a more energetic rhythm section. Though merely a small shakeup at first glance, this issue directly ties into the other two complaints.

Said two complaints are directly intertwined. The Used, over the course of their three full-length albums, have always straddled a delicate balance between full-blown mainstream accessibility and weird avant-garde individualism. Lies for the Liars is as such badly wounded by a desire to obviously win over bored yet casual music fans with catchy hooks and outright poppiness; inversely, the band has never struggled so much in terms of innovating. The entire disc forces itself to be a wildly unique preposition, yet subtly begs acceptance from more conventional wallets who'd probably avoid it. This paradox of the soul leaves the disc unfortunately at odds with itself, at once an outcast and a brash wanna-be success story. In fact, for all its metaphors for honesty, Lies for the Liars is probably one of the most shallow and sheepishly fake albums I've heard in ages; the whole thing smacks of trying to be something it is not. Perhaps my musical tastes have evolved away from them (or theirs from mine) but the Used seem like they want their cake and the icing too. I just wish they'd either give up the soft pop experimentations of In Love or Death or fully indulge their more sugary aspects.

And therein lays the problem. As a major label band now, the Used desperately need another multi-platinum CD or at least a wildly hot single, especially in the wake of My Chemical Romance. MCR were underlings of the Used who have since become one of radio rock's largest success stories, and the Used have been largely left in the dust. This need for renewed interest twists the band into an uncomfortable over-reliance on catchiness and sing-alongs; as has been an increasing problem on past albums, the band's many diverse tastes shows that what they really desire is an outlet for their experimental ideas, and such fusions rarely correspond with bouncy radio singles.

This messiness is clear right off the bat with triple-hitters in "The Ripper," "Pretty Handsome Awkward," and "The Bird and the Worm." "Ripper" is an absolute clusterf**k of high-energy ADD. For all its bluster and "out-of-the-gate" bravado, this sloppy fusion of driving arena rock, poppy sing-alongs, cathartic screamo, and random electronica makes for a veritable Frankenstein's monster of a song. Poorly constructed and feeling very much like an unnecessary effort, it makes for an energetic start to the album but lacks real substance. Lead-off single "Pretty Handsome Awkward" is a swinging rocker with a down-and-dirty riff that improves things a bit. It manages to transition fairly well from fist-pumping sarcasm to hooky choruses, but some elements (random low-end growls and the like) reek less of smooth song-writing and more of trying to score already lost scene points with older fans. "The Bird and the Worm" is both an excellent single and probably one of the best songs on the album; proving that at times the band's numerous and eclectic tastes can build something that sounds both natural and well-crafted. "Bird" fuses sinister emotion, driving Goth-rock, a churning string section, and chilling industrial to great effect. The soaring chorus is also notable for being one of the best the band has ever penned, and a seamless portion of folksy guitar followed by an eventual descent into roaring vitriol works wonders as well. Surreal and with enough dark whimsy to be worthy of a Danny Elfman rock song, "Bird" is interesting fare indeed.

From there things sadly stumble a bit. The love ballad that is "Earthquake" is surely heartfelt, catchy and swelling, but not really timeless rock. It lacks at least one testicle and pretty much its only truly redeeming quality is the fact it wallows in vulnerability. I wish the band would amp down the cheese factor a bit, as songs like this one could be interesting if given much less melodramatic fare for subject-matter.

"Hospital" is such a blatant rip-off of a My Chemical Romance arena-rocker I wouldn't be surprised if it was intentional. This is the kind of sugary, repetitive, and driving rock drivel people seem to lap up in droves today...bouncy and fun if one isn't thinking too hard, but with a poor shelf life. The band tries a breakdown into a chorus (always a pitiful idea) and it sounds haphazard and forced.

"Paralyzed" is a jazz-inflected tune that in my mind is everything "Lunacy Fringe" wanted to be off of In Love & Death. The song works in excellent dynamics, shifting from quieter hues to loud, roaring explosions of jangling aggression. In fact, I'd even go so far as to confess that this song is a joy to behold---the slow-build from simplistic pop tune to driving rock to spastic catharsis and back again is near-perfect. By this point, I feel pretty safe in saying that the Used aren't 100% sure where to take their sound, and if they're going to move away from the scream-laden stuff of the early days I'm hoping they at least take it in this direction.

"With Me Tonight" is an annoying pop ballad with elements of experimental and funky noise, but not much else. To be honest, a brief piano run segues into a swaying freakout, but the eventual gear-change into shameless bubble-gum pop (though toe-tapping) seems awkward at best and confused at worst. Zombie thriller "Wake the Dead" starts with creepy sound effects before kicking into a horror-rawk jam that is catchy and morbid ala the Misfits. In a surprising twist, the song blossoms into what can best be described as a Michael Jackson/indie-rock twinkling. Frontman Bert McCracken drops some appalling high notes on this, and the song's surprisingly bloody finish makes this a keeper.

"Find a Way" steals elements of the classic "Money" opening from Pink Floyd and then drops a by-the-numbers infatuation number that this or any band could do a thousand times over without a single piece of interesting development. All the monotonous elements are there; simple and clean guitar melodies, lame crooning, and sappy lyrics. None of it is remotely entertaining, and the band has already done this too many times to have any emotional resonance at this point. "Liar Liar (Burn in Hell)" is a childish and weak rocker that uses rote shock value, catchy hooks, and poor lyricism to coast by. It is so bad I've had to listen to it some three or four times in an attempt to see if I missed anything, but my final verdict is that this tune adds nothing serious to the album and could have been cut out. Closing cut "Smother Me" starts as a vulnerable piano ballad but eventually builds into a graceful and shimmering elegy. Though every bit as fragile as some of the other songs I've lambasted earlier, something about it seems that much more sincere and it ends the CD on calm, soothing notes. A lame beatbox track about Quesadillas after the song really doesn't have a need to exist.

All-in-all, Lies for the Liars is quite the deception in-and-of itself. Do the Used want to be a straightforward pop band, the next incarnation of Faith No More, or the screamo poster boys they were originally tagged as? The forty minutes of this CD presents these various ideas and then some; rarely do they approach clarity and/or coherence. Seeing as the band has gone through some rough patches with line-up changes and label drama, perhaps next round will be a bit more focused. Here's hoping they call it Direction for the Directionless.

The Used's Lies for the Liars
1. The Ripper
2. Pretty Handsome Awkward
3. The Bird and the Worm
4. Earthquake
5. Hospital
6. Paralyzed
7. With Me Tonight
8. Wake the Dead
9. Find a Way
10. Liar Liar (Burn in Hell)
11. Smother Me

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The Used - Lies for the Liars


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