There are countless reasons why The Used are still going strong after over twenty years and ten full-length albums, but the band’s fearlessness to tackle difficult subjects while experimenting with their sound is something that has always rung true throughout their career. Their latest album, Toxic Positivity is no different, but different at the same time. While lyrically, long-time fans of the band will find comfort in the always vulnerable songwriting from frontman Bert McCracken, sonically, the album finds the band stepping out of their comfort zone once again, proving yet again why they have been a staple in the alternative music scene for over two decades.
Toxic Positivity finds The Used effortlessly navigating one of the most difficult balancing acts that most bands of their caliber and longevity have to overcome: giving fans a taste of the band that they first fell in love with years ago while experimenting with new sounds. And execute it perfectly. Toxic Positivity doesn’t come off as fan-service, nor does it feel gimmicky or disingenuous when the band injects electronic, pop or even hip-hop elements into their sound in songs like “I Hate Everybody”, “Dancing With a Brick Wall”, “Top of the World” or “Giving Up”. It seems that, in the two years since Heartwork, the band has taken what they learned while collaborating with other artists like blackbear and 3OH!3 and applied it to their signature blend of emotionally vulnerable vocals, hard-hitting guitars and sing-along ready choruses. The result is something that proves that The Used is still growing, even this far into their career.
Standouts on the album are the songs that both harken back to the band’s old work and the ones that find them experimenting with new sounds. Where “Headspace” will transport fans back to In Love and Death and “Dopamine” borrows some of the theatricality from Lies for the Liars, “Dancing With a Brick Wall” and “Top of the World” inject elements of electronic and pop music into the choruses with bright synths that perfectly compliment Bert’s vocals.
The perfect example of this sort of push and pull between old and new is the contrast between the album’s aggressive opener, “Worst I’ve Ever Been” and the bright and hopeful closer, “Giving Up”. While the first track is angry and frustrated, driven by growling vocals and explosive guitars, the final track finds Bert proclaiming, “I’m not giving up on me” regardless of how dark of bad things get, alongside electric drums and stunning synth. Not only does it end things on a powerfully hopeful note, but it also just goes to show the world of possibility that lays ahead of The Used, both sonically and emotionally. This album just goes to show why The Used are still going strong in 2023 – it’s all in their willingness to grow, adapt and change without forgetting where they came from.