Retrofitted (Riot Style): The Alkaline Trio

“I gave up on you a long time ago, how can you blame me.” – Alkaline Trio from “Hell Yes”

Forgive me for saying this, but the Alkaline Trio are the 90s power-punk version of late 60s doo-wop girl groups like the Shangri-Las and the Ronettes, except brazen, blunt and uncensored.  And, that is why I absolutely adore them. Let me explain.

First off, before you write off those late 60s Wall-of-Sound studio produced bands as banal and Brill Building fluff, give them a second listen. Underneath the pop polish, there is an alluring darkness and pessimism running through their music and lyrics; a Rebel Without A Cause nihilism seething through the ostensibly dreamy romances and pitch perfect harmonies. It is not all “chocolate, champagne, and roses” as the music sounds, but a touch more arsenic, prescription pills, and thorns, the product of unrequited and fatalistic love. The amour fou (aka “mad love”) that believes the world will end without a lover’s acquiescence or a friend arriving at the agreed upon time. After all, a love song only hits as deep as the gaping hole felt when a the lover is scorned.

…this is the world of the Alkaline Trio, a reality where love and friendship are the only Truths that can save a sensitive and searching soul from the abyss of nothingness. Why? Because the world has turned and left me here…oops wrong band proven to be a complete and total fallacy, devoid of master narratives, a french farce of epic portions and we are the players. Yet this is teatro verite and there are no “wings”, “intermissions”, “rehearsal breaks”, just an inevitably and unending Sisyphus-like striving, yearning and questioning. Sound dramatic? Overwrought? Exaggerated? Well welcome back to mental space and perspective of adolescence. (Or, at least, pre-social media, post-Vietnam adolescence.)

I don’t mean to trivialize the Alkaline Trio’s artistic merit, but I think few bands capture the seismic mental and emotional disillusionment, passion and sincerity of an American teen’s “coming of age” as well as this threesome from Chicago. And, they do it with a tasteful sense of sarcasm, comedy, and honesty often not associated with punk’s more aggressive shoot first and ask questions later sort of social critique. Starting with Goddammit through From Here to Infirmary, the boys of Alkaline Trio travel through narratives of the lovelorn, the angry ex, the distraught friend, the questioning confidant and the angsty and alienated post-adolescent, doing it with an economy of language and a world of pleasant hurt like few other others. The songs are fueled by an anarcho-intellectual fire and a heart-on-sleeve, well-intentioned anger (e.g. “beg change from a world that needs some”) and (most likely) an unhealthy connection to (excessive) drinking, but they come from real experience and pain.

I will forever associate the Alkaline Trio with some wonderfully adventurous evenings and afternoons spent unpacking and exploring the intricacies of friendship and relationships. Along with some really raucous sessions of fists raised in the air, a finger pointed heavenwards, head bobbing feverishly and just a frenetic rocking out.  Good times (at 19A).  I’d go back in a heart beat.

On that note, here’s a double dose of the trio from the Windy City (once again these records are so perfectly titled):

Goddamnit! And  Maybe I’ll Catch Fire

Whispering sweet nothings to get you on your feet.


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