Photo Credit: Wyatt Troll
Rock audiences seem to have clearly risen in favor of Rise Against, since the Chicago punk band’s last five studio albums all went Top 10 in the US, and that commercial success at least will probably continue unabated with the band’s new release. Yet the title alone sort of spells trouble: Nowhere Generation. This might be a clever and poignant way of summing up how today’s youth feel, if not for the fact that variances on this same theme have been done for what seems like a million years, most obviously with “Blank Generation”, Richard Hell & the Voidoids’ 1977 punk classic (which few people realize was itself a parody of “Beat Generation”, a 1959 song by Bob McFadden which also, at the time, attempted to verbalize the feelings of a certain segment of the population). And the Rise Against song with for which the album is named does little to improve the situation with its lyrics (“We are the nowhere generation // We are the kids no one wants”).
This is too bad because beyond that, Rise Against put forth a tight, solid and consistent set of songs on Nowhere Generation. While the mix of overt social consciousness, melody and even the band’s name all make the influence of Bad Religion obvious (particularly on tracks such as “Middle of a Dream”, and the ironically-titled “Sounds Like”), Rise Against very much find their own voice – and the underlying message is that they want to urge their listeners to do the same. Lyrics are also mostly quite strong throughout the album as the band gets their point across clearly while also framing it with some rather unique analogies (“Is your saddle comfortable? // Do the reigns feel tight enough // Will you gallop when you’re kicked? // Or throw the rider off?” they sing on opening cut “The Numbers”).
Lead singer (and rhythm guitarist) Tim McIlrath luckily realizes – as does longtime Bad Religion frontman Greg Graffin – that any ideal gets across more concisely if people actually understand it while it’s being sung (not after they read it online after a Google search). Rise Against also almost completely avoids the interjection of “scream” vocals, which too many modern punk bands think they need (although they throw in just a bit of it nine tracks in, on “Sooner or later”). “Forfeit”, is consistent with the rest of the album in regards to tempo and lyrics except that it’s the token “soft” track, played on acoustic-electric guitars. Still, it feels like that approach is because it best fits the song, not because the band is gearing up for some obligatory “unplugged”-type gig (acoustic guitars later make a last-minute return as they fade out the closing track, “Rules of Play”).
The members of Rise Against – McIlrath, guitarist Zach Blair, bassist Joe Pricipe and drummer Brandon Barnes – are all well into their forties, which makes one wonder just what generation they believe themselves to be speaking for: Is it their own peers, or those currently in their teens (or even early twenties) who are, in fact, young enough to be their own children? Maybe what it all suggests in the end is that every generation feels the same sense of disenfranchisement, even if the reasons vary. A fifteen-year-old in 2021 can no doubt appreciate and relate to “Blank Generation” or even another classic, the Who’s “My Generation”, every bit as much as their parents or grandparents did. But that, of course, is a topic for a much longer and more involved discussion. As for that which is at hand, Generation Nowhere might not be an album for the generations, but it’s one for right now.