Pop-punk is a subgenre in which the pleasures are derived from the familiarities, and not the ingenuities, and its rules are more concretely understood by the players and spectators than in any other genre of rock 'n' roll. For this reason, a new Dillinger Four album is an immensely comforting prospect, and C I V I L W A R, their first full-length release in six years, is a dutiful delivery of the formula they helped pen. The album opens with "A Jingle for the Product," a tender look back on a youth recklessly but fondly misspent, where the memories of "raising fists to the world" and "crushing opposition" are rendered in a spritely jaunt too brisk to make any apologies for the cliché. From "Gainesville," a mash note to the annual punk festival held in that Florida city every October, to "Clown Cars on Cinder Blocks," a helpless moan from the depths of heartbreak that closes the album, the ground is familiar and well-trod, and the execution is solid enough to keep anyone from complaining too loudly.
But when you spend a career in a headlong sprint without looking up, you tend to run in a straight line. And while the music is dependably buoyant, the album's substance feels hurriedly preoccupied with extending their revisionist take on youth into perpetuity. Through every chord progression and bar, one hears Dillinger Four tracing over their own lines. Catchy tunes like "Ode to the North American Snake Oil Distributor" are dragged Earthward by clumsy songwriting that, like much of the material here, seems unpleasantly rooted in the spoiled adolescences that are but a memory for the punk rockers as they approach their middle years. "Wrong or right don't exist in the light/This world can't exist in only black or white" is the battle cry in the above-mentioned "Snake Oil Distributor." It's meant to be anthemic, and, despite its saccharine, it won't fail to illicit shout-alongs from their devoted crowds. And so goes the album as a whole. Though it packs an intensely listenable punch, it's mildly disappointing to see D4 handicapped by the growth limitations of their genre and their own success—and for a band that's made a name of passing out onstage mid-song, they sure seem to play nice on wax.
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