For many fans of The Used, they will tell you they have been following the band since the beginning. Forming nearly 20 years ago in 2001 and releasing their debut the following year, this is a band that has established an incredibly loyal fanbase, and with the release of their eighth studio album Heartwork, the reasoning is obvious. Heartwork releases today via Big Noise, and is a true masterpiece that displays the band’s seniority within the music industry by perfectly blending genres throughout each song and writing relatable lyrics. Heartwork definitely keeps up nostalgia, some songs reminiscing the tone of past albums, possibly due to the fact that the band has once again partnered with John Feldmann. Feldmann produced previous albums for the band that saw great success, and has come into Heartwork through a different angle using modern pop and rock influences, combined with the growth that naturally comes from experience.
Fans will notice Heartwork rhymes with a previous album Artwork (2009), which frontman Bert McCracken says was written during a “really destructive and dark time” in his life. “It was probably the first and only time in my career where going to the studio and being around the guys in my band felt like work,” he revealed. “I was really hungover the whole record… it was awful, it was terrible, you can hear it in the record itself.” The new album involves the “complete opposite” state of mind, he said, but it still comes from “the deepest, most personal places in our heart.” It is clear listening to this album, the theme plays around with feeling vulnerable and sincere, and even feeling stagnant and lost, but still allows the listener to make peace with all these emotions.
Heartwork is a true mix of genres; each song coalesces the many genres that have influenced the band. They played around with “poppy production stuff,” which is present in quite a few songs such as “BIG, WANNA BE” and “Clean Cut Heals.” McCracken admitted the album genre was “a bit all over the place” as they drew inspiration from everyone’s unique musical influence, something that could weaken and disjoint an album, however, it only seems to strengthen it.
The song “Cathedral Bell” definitely fits into what is considered the “poppy” on this album. It’s heavier on electronic sounds, also layering McCracken’s vocals but distorting them at times for that modern sound. It creates an afferent experience which lends to the lyrics, “In the sensory cave that you made/ I lie awake.” “Clean Cut Heals,” as referenced above, is another example. What truly gives this song that poppy feel is Jeph Howard’s funk bass melody used in the intro, which balances the somber breakup lyrics with the music’s upbeat approach.
Lyrically, this album is very intriguing and thought provoking, whilst staying very relatable to its audience. “Wow, I Hate This Song” jutted out from the rest. Upon first listen, it appears to be about the songs that are overplayed on the radio to the point that they become background noise or unbearable, with obvious lyrics such as “Wow, I hate this song/ Each time it comes on.” Digging deeper, however, and paying attention to the other lyrics such as, “Every time I hear the key/ I see you in the melody/ It never was a part of me” and “Please won’t someone shut it off/ Break the record right in half/ Heart feels like it’s being stabbed/ Kills me emotionally” could instead be understood as music connected to negative emotions or cause old, unpleasant memories to surface.
Other songs to note and listen for on this sixteen-track album are “The Lighthouse” which features Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus, and Travis Barker on the track “Obvious Blasé”. Both these featured artists take these already great songs to another level, both adding their respected crafts, and in particular, Barker’s, whose unmistakable style drumming on the track really shines. “The Lottery” features frontman Caleb Shomo of Beartooth, and his powerful and gritty vocals greatly add to the energy and momentum of the track. “Blow Me,” the first single from the new album, which was released this past December, features the fervent vocals of Jason Aalon Butler of Fever 333.
Heartwork is a true testament of what years of experience as accomplished musicians and the willingness to experiment with new sound can create. McCracken’s signature throaty vocals fit perfectly into every song and are really a highlight of this album, and mention needs to be made of Jeph Howard, who creates some catchy and memorable riffs on the album. The Used found a foolproof way to gel all the ideas from each member, and coupled with vulnerable and unabashed lyrics– something they have never shied away from– they created a cohesive piece of work that checks all the boxes and scratches every itch.