The Used are back, and they’ve got something to prove. Unfortunately, the only message that comes across from their newest EP, “Shallow Believer,” is just how much a band can change from its old style to a smoothed-over, effects-laden mess.
Containing seven tracks that didn’t make it onto last year’s “Lies for the Liars” as well as two others from the previous album, “In Love and Death” (2004), and one from the self-titled album, this EP adequately sums up where the band came from and where it’s headed musically.
The Used, hailing from Provo, Utah, have been treading water in the overcrowded pool of pop-punk and post-hardcore bands for the past five years. The band’s debut self-titled album, released in 2002, was a razor-sharp, hard-rock album, complete with choruses that made tracks such as “Buried Myself Alive” and “Blue and Yellow” hits on rock radio across the nation.
The story of the band’s rise to fame is of the sort that is becoming increasingly prevalent these days: After sending a disc of homemade demos to Goldfinger guitarist and producer John Feldmann, the band was recruited to record an album with Feldmann based on the quality of the demo track alone (for The Used fans, it was “A Box Full of Sharp Objects”). With Feldmann’s assistance, the band pitched the album to multiple labels, and was finally picked up by Reprise Records in 2001.
Since then, all of the group’s releases have been produced, engineered and mixed by Feldmann, who happens to be a master of Pro Tools. Pro Tools is the infamous recording program that allows pitch correcting, drastic equalization and just about any other sonic tomfoolery one can think of to make a recording sound, for lack of a better term, perfect.
With the release of “Shallow Believer,” The Used seems to have willingly accepted its place as another commodity in the pitch-perfect pop-rock world. The first track, a B-side from “Lies for the Liars” entitled “Dark Days,” is a lackluster rock tune that was wisely cut from the album. The song lacks a real riff from guitarist Quinn Allman and instead relies on sparkly ProTools effects from Feldmann to keep the track afloat with catchiness. The song begs for a screaming breakdown section in the middle somewhere, but instead only offers the clichéd telephone-affected voice of Bert McCracken singing, “We should be making light of these dark days.”
The roaring second song, aptly given the name “Slit Your Own Throat,” does what The Used does best: it screams loudly about what a waste of life the subject of the song is. The lyrics from the chorus sum up the number the best, with McCracken howling, “You’re more turned on than anyone could be by yourself/ Go slit your own throat/ Slit your own throat.” The thundering bass-heavy guitars complement the song perfectly, and Allman’s understated staccato riffing emphasizes the evil urgency of the song.
“Into My Web” is the first song on the album taken from “In Love and Death,” and its presence on the album reminds the listener of the greatness of The Used of yesteryear. Former drummer (he was kicked out before the recording of “Lies”) Branden Steineckert’s syncopated cymbal work adds more flavor to the song than any digital effect ever could. Bassist Jeph Howard locks in much tighter with Steineckert than he ever could with the studio drummer who replaced him, pressing the song rigorously forward rather than lurching ahead awkwardly.
“Choke Me” is the only song cut from the group’s self-titled debut (2002), and good God, does it rock. Although the song is certainly a track for only die-hard fans – the entirety of the song is screaming – the fact that the tune would scare most people makes it all the better. Written in the early days of The Used, the lyrics deal with McCracken’s drug problems, declaring, “For a while I was cleaner than now/ then I started to destroy myself/ with things that I love now the things that I hate/ until it finally broke me.”
The EP ends with the ballad “Tunnel.” “Tunnel” was one of the most hyped songs on “Lies for the Liars,” yet it never made it onto the album. After only one listen, it’s readily apparent why: there’s just too much going on. The tune should be intimate and alone, a singer and an acoustic guitar with little to nothing else, but instead it’s turned into a hugely orchestrated and overwrought attempt at “Sgt. Pepper’s”-era Beatles. The Used would be wise to take a hint from the obnoxiously overplayed “Hey There Delilah” and realize that good rock music only requires a boy, his guitar and a broken heart (or a drug problem).