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New Surrender

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2008 1 Sep
New Surrender
Sounds like … a hybrid of modern rock and pop that isn't too far off from Further Seems Forever, Interpol, Fall Out Boy, and Franz Ferdinand, as well as the anthemic sounds of Switchfoot, U2, and The OutfieldAt a glance … New Surrender is a slightly more pop-friendly album than Anberlin's previous efforts, but it's also their most stylistically varied and spiritual, ultimately showing a willingness to grow as a bandTrack Listing The Resistance Breaking Blame Me! Blame Me! Retrace Feel Good Drag Disappear Breathe Burn Out Brighter (Northern Lights) Younglife Haight Street Soft Skeletons Miserabile Visu (Ex Malo Bonum)

Five years ago, Anberlin made their debut and became an instant indie rock darling, drawing largely from classic '80s bands like The Cure, The Smiths, and The Outfield as well as contemporaries like Interpol, The Juliana Theory, and Franz Ferdinand. With each successive release, they only seemed to gain momentum, to the point where they've almost become like U2 and Coldplay as a band that has defined a sound and is regularly used for comparison's sake. When you're perceived as a trendsetter, the bigger record labels are bound to take notice. And just months after the release of Cities in 2007, which debuted in the Top 20 of the Billboard 200, Anberlin signed with Universal Republic to go the mainstream route.

Barely a year after that deal, the Florida quintet takes their next big step into a larger world with New Surrender, their intriguingly titled fourth studio album. Is it suggesting that the band has sold out to the music industry? Or is there deeper meaning to the title? There are only hints of what the "surrender" refers to, but Anberlin's sound is certainly "new."Though each of the three recordings with Aaron Sprinkle (Kutless, Jeremy Camp) was markedly improved from the last, the Florida quintet's sound was starting to fall into a rut. It was high time they made some adjustments.

Enter producer Neal Avron (New Found Glory, Fall Out Boy), who pushed the band to work on their arrangements and break from convention. The results are bound to stir debate among Anberlin's core fan base. Many would say that the band has surrendered their emo alternative style to more pop-friendly melodic rock. At times, this is definitely true, but Anberlin also still remains true to their distinctive sound on New Surrender.

Longtime fans will gravitate toward the opener, "The Resistance," another heavy-hitting modern rocker reminiscent of many of Anberlin's past songs. Percolating guitars underscore generalized lyrics of empowerment and revolution—against what, it's never clear, but this is easily one of Anberlin's best with big rhythmic hits and gang vocals punctuating the chorus. The faithful will also enjoy "Blame Me! Blame Me!" as well as a punchy remake of "Feel Good Drag" (originally from 2005's Never Take Friendship Personal). And the fast-paced "Disappear" seems a natural evolution of the band's '80s-derived alt-rock style.

But then other tracks are more radio-friendly than any of Anberlin's previous work. "Breaking" and "Retrace" bear more of a pop flavor in their melodies and use of strings, while "Younglife" offers a nostalgic look to childhood with nuanced acoustic pop. And "Haight Street" is upbeat pop/rock fun with plenty of handclaps, sharing more in common with The Bay City Rollers or early Beatles than Anberlin's alt/emo rock influences. Though it's understandable why some fans would be disappointed, it all brings some much-needed variation to the album, allowing each song to stand on its own merits. Additionally, the songwriting has become tighter and more focused, rather than the meandering emo exhibited on Anberlin's earlier albums.

In addition to the arrangements, Anberlin's lyrics have become noticeably clearer. Though many of the songs remain secular in tone, focusing on relationships and heartbreak, it could be argued that New Surrender is the band's most overtly spiritual album to date—which is ironic considering this is supposed to be the big crossover album.

Though "Soft Skeletons" isn't spiritual in scope, there's something Christian in the way it lovingly empathizes with a girl struggling with drug addiction: "Stand unafraid, all of the good souls … When it's a crashing burn and the pain returns/I just wish I could heal the hurt you feel tonight." A better example comes with "Burn Out Brighter (Northern Lights)," in which lead vocalist Stephen Christian expresses a commitment to live for something greater than himself: "Live, I want to live inspired/Die, I want to die for something/Higher than myself/Live and die for anyone else/The more I live I see/This life's not about me."

There's also "Breathe," a terrific stadium rock anthem reminiscent of Switchfoot's "Dare You to Move" and innumerable U2 hits, perfectly suited to become a radio single. Though the lyrics never specifically reference Jesus, Christians can easily recognize them as being about overcoming struggles and shame through surrender and renewal: "This is surrender to a life torn war I've lived/Scars and stripes forever/In need of change that I can't resist/No need to hide anything anymore/Can't return home who I was before/I can finally breathe/Suddenly alive/I can finally move/World feels revived."

The album's most blatantly Christian track, however, is the apocalyptic finale "Miserabile Visu (Ex Malo Bonum)," which is Latin for "Terrible by the Sight (Good out of Evil)." This six-minute epic would be as cryptic as some of Anberlin's past songs, except it'll sound familiar to anyone versed in talk of the Antichrist and the ultimate hope found in the book of Revelation: "What disasters may come, whatever it may be/The end of the age will land you and me/What tragedy may bring, whatever may fall/At the end of the world, you still belong/Look children to the eastern sky/When you hear the voice, say your last goodbyes."

With examples like these, it seems pretty reasonable to assume that the new surrender of the title has more to do with Anberlin's songs than their record deal. Whether new to the band or a fan of five years, there's enough on the band's latest that make it worthy of a listen. And though Cities will undoubtedly remain the favorite to many, these ears can't help but appreciate New Surrender as Anberlin's most varied and mature album to date.

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