Nearly twenty years and eight full-length albums since their inception, The Used are still reinventing themselves with each release. The follow-up to their emotionally vulnerable 2017 release, The Canyon, The Used’s latest album Heartwork finds them returning to their roots in heavier songs like “Blow Me” and “The Lottery” while exploring new musical territory in electronic, pop and even hip-hop influenced songs like “Cathedral Bell” “1984 (infinite jest)” and “Clean Cut Heals”. The sixteen-track album might seem daunting at first, but with no two songs that sound the same, Heartwork is a rollercoaster from start to finish.
There are two distinct halves of Heartwork, with the first half of the album feeling very dark and ominous and the second half balancing it with a lighter, more hopeful tone. The push and pull between light and dark can clearly be heard in songs like, “BIG, WANNA BE,” which is glitchy and dark musically but lyrically, is very empowering in lines like “I’ve been through way too much shit to ever let this go.” Similarly, the vocal work on “Bloody Nose” is a bit more poppy, but instrumentally the song is very dark.
Fans of The Used’s earlier work will be pleased with the album’s first three songs, particularly the powerful opener “Paradise Lost, a poem by John Milton” and the explosive “Blow Me” featuring Fever 333’s Jason Aalon Butler, but it quickly becomes very clear that Heartwork wasn’t created for nostalgic reasons. While lyrically, the album easily falls in line with The Used’s previous work with blunt, vulnerable and sometimes very snarky one-liners, sonically, Heartwork might just be the band’s most diverse release to date.
One of the album’s many stand-outs is the dark, haunting, “Cathedral Bell,” which seamlessly merges elements of electronic, pop and rock music to create a feeling of dread that follows you throughout the entire song. Of course, this is followed immediately by the mind-blowing, “1984 (infinite jest)” which not only hosts some witty one-liners that fans have come to expect from The Used (like the line, “The real black parade is waiting”) but it also finds the band exploring hip-hop beats alongside powerful guitar work. Then there’s the straight-up pop track, “Clean Cut Heals”, complete with a catchy as hell bass line and some of Bert McCracken’s most dynamic vocal work on the album.
The guest spots on Heartwork are also worth mentioning. While Jason Aalon Butler lends his vocals on “Blow Me”, Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker of blink-182 and Caleb Shomo of Beartooth make appearances later in the album. Sometimes, an album filled with guests can feel like the band is making up for mediocre songs by attaching big names to them, but “Blow Me,” “The Lighthouse”, “Obvious Blasé” and “The Lottery” are easily some of the strongest songs on Heartwork.
It may be hard to believe that poppy tracks like “Clean Cut Heals” and “The Lighthouse” appear on the same album as “Blow Me” or “The Lottery,” and frankly, if these songs were side-by-side, it would absolutely feel choppy and inconsistent, but the album’s tracklist was clearly built with great care, making the album flow well with a distinct storyline. The Used go through an entire sonic evolution by the time Heartwork comes to an end with “The Lottery,” “Darkness Bleeds, FOTF” and the emotional closer, “To Feel Something” and thankfully, it doesn’t feel contrived. This isn’t a band eighteen years into their career struggling to remain relevant. The Used have been constantly reinventing themselves since their inception, and Heartwork is simply the next chapter in their story.
LISTEN TO: “1984 (infinite jest)”, “Clean Cut Heals” or “Blow Me”
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