Photo Credit: Brian Cox
There’s a very early issue of Mad magazine where the cover was designed to look like a school composition book on the outside, the (obviously humorous) idea being that it would act as camouflaged decoy from teachers who wouldn’t then know what the students were actually reading. We may wonder if Orem, Utah band The Used attempted a similar deception on their eighth studio album Heartwork, since several of the tracks share the title with that of a classic work of literature, including “The Lottery” and “Gravity’s Rainbow.” However, The Used truly drives this point by opening the album with a song called (and this is the song’s full title) “Paradise Lost, a poem by John Milton.”
Once we’re past this oddity, Heartwork is a lot closer to what you would expect as solid but fairly standard punk/emo/pop/hard rock album, and the track “Paradise Lost” proves so right off the bat. The band then immediately makes a 180-degree turn, at least in terms of title, with “Blow Me.” Relax: The full phrase in the harder-edged track is “Blow me away” (emphasis added), and it’s about gun violence (then again, maybe that shouldn’t make you relax). However, when The Used wish to bleed all the musical genres that they touch upon in a single track, they offer up “Darkness Bleeding – TFOF” (the abbreviation btw means “The Fire or Flood,” in case The Used are trying to popularize it for text messaging).
It would be too easy to say that “Wow, I Hate This Song” provides its own review, except that the track is a cleaver – and we hope exaggerated – take on the current state of music: “We all know those bad songs // Everything that’s on the radio // Makes me wanna f*cking bash my skull // Hurt myself literally.” Probably nothing on Heartwork would prompt quite that violent a reaction in even the most discriminating listener. However, “Lighthouse”, though a solid and enjoyable track with accessible lyrics, pleasant acoustic guitar and featured vocals by Blink-182 singer and bassist Mark Hoppus, is basically unabashed Top 40 bait (yet it’s not among the three tracks that have been released as singles, so maybe The Used are more cleaver than we think).
The bouncy “Obvious Blasé” follows “Lighthouse”, which is also obviously a pop song. However, lest anyone be too concerned, The Used get right back to hard rock with “Lottery” (which the lyrics suggests was in fact inspired by the classic Shirley Jackson short story about the one lottery nobody wants to win). The band maintains both the harder edge and inspiration from classic literature with “1984 – Infinite Jest” (hey, that one uses the title of two well-known books), a track echoing Nine Inch Nails and Sonic Youth which features a haunting whisper vocal. The title track is something of a companion piece to this one, an almost incidental but effective industrial sidebar with spoken-word lyrics.
The aforementioned “Gravity’s Rainbow” opens with a string section (which may actually be synths) a la “Kashmir”, after which the whole track attempts a sort of epic feel, similar to both the Led Zeppelin classic and the Thomas Pynchon novel from which it takes its name. “To Feel Something” starts off with what sounds like a ringtone knock-off version of the opening to the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” and does for the most part work as a sort of grand finale to Heartwork, despite being less than three minutes long. Unfortunately, some of that time in what otherwise should have been a solid, heartfelt mid-tempo tune instead give way to the obligatory, predictable “screaming” section, which in this case we really didn’t need to hear.
So will rock fans feel something for Heartwork? Appreciation? Contempt? Indifference? Well, so far as of this writing, it’s the band’s lowest-charting full-length release to date (although the current health crisis which has been affecting the entire music industry obviously isn’t helping anything). But it certainly shouldn’t be too late for the album to find the audience it deserves, because Heartwork, for the most part, does work.