Everyone’s favourite macabre pop-punkers Alkaline Trio have been around a while now - since 1996! - and have reliably churned out records for most of that, at least until 2013’s My Shame Is True. The band sounded fatigued and worn down and fans had to be wondering whether they had much left in the tank. After a five year break from recording and multiple side projects (including vocalist Matt Skiba’s jaunt with Blink-182) the band came back together and dropped lead single ‘Blackbird’, which brought the more stripped-back sound of older Trio fused with the glossier production seen on records like 2005’s Crimson to whet appetites.
Is This Thing Cursed? opens with the title track, a slow-burner introduced with piano before unfolding with the twin vocal interplay of Skiba and Dan Andriano and despite the gloomy subject the track is remarkably upbeat and cheery, a juxtaposition that the band have done so damn well over the years. It’s classic Trio and sets a solidly high bar for the album to follow. Fortunately the remainder of ITTC? lives up to this for the most part - following track and lead single ‘Blackbird’ could comfortably sit alongside older fan favourites, as could ‘Little Help’, which uses rapid-fire vocal delivery and morose lyrics alongside delivery rattling along like a runaway freight train.
There’s a danger with releasing a 13-track album in keeping consistency over that length, and some self-editing certainly wouldn’t have gone amiss here. While the band do mostly manage to successfully marry old-school Alkaline Trio a la ‘Sadie’ or the Maybe I’ll Catch Fire era with glossier production and poppy hooks in the vein of 'Crimson' or 'Agony & Irony' and there are standout tracks as well as lyrics such as “no longer breathing but singing along” from ‘I Can’t Believe’, but the song itself is a lower point in the album, not quite living up to the promise of the opening salvo. The album, as it stands, is quite front-loaded; the best tracks are over in the first 10-15 minutes and while the rest isn’t bad at all, it’s far more mid paced, middle of the road writing that doesn’t quite recapture the earlier vigour or what made Trio such an intriguing band in the first place. Despite all this, Is Thing Cursed? is a definite step in the right direction and some of the strongest material they’ve released in years.