Mythologically speaking, the phoenix is a bird that never truly dies. After completing one life cycle, the bird begins its next life through an egg born by flames. In this sense, the beauty of the bird, along with its beautiful cry like that of a song, only makes sense for the title of the The Classic Crime's fourth career album. Now without a label to call home after the end of their contract with Tooth & Nail Records, the alternative rockers turned to self-production and fan-funded support to create their next record, and Phoenix is the spawn of these combined efforts.
With The Classic Crime's debut Albatross boasting mostly inexpert punk rock, both The Silver Cord and Vagabonds were unafraid to creep into unexplored territory for the band, and while not every song's attempt was completely successful, the outstretch for interesting melodies was never lost. The Classic Crime somewhat sticks to the shore for this effort, using an uncanny hybrid of The Silver Cord and Vagabonds' sounds. There are, of course, the occasional surprises that pop up, such as the astutely positioned violin and piano sections of "The Precipice" and the drawn-out, but still effective nature of "Heaven and Hell." The intro and outro to the album are also very fine additions and do create an elaborate atmosphere for the eleven tracks in between. With just enough experimentation to keep things moving, TCC continues to capture the alternative rock listener's ear.
Based purely on past precedent, a key diverging factor to TCC's approach is the lyrical frankness. Matt MacDonald's ruthless methods are truly one of his band's distinctives, but the catch to his brutal honesty is that it too often manifests itself as snide rather than virtuous. Phoenix displays a far more tactful approach to MacDonald's songwriting, however, but is hardly callous when discussing urgent issues. "Glass Houses" offers a stern warning to self-righteous Christians ("Somewhere deep down you know the difference/Between love and following orders/And if the chorus I sing is offensive it's proof that you've yet to address your disorder…/You naively believed that your ship couldn't sink/but it did"), while the closer "City of Orphans" touches a similar line of describing the antithesis of misguided, self-destructive lifestyles ("If God could just hear us/we think that He's near, but He left long ago/we're a city of orphans/what do we do to ourselves?/We take all the good and the heaven around us and turn it to hell"). All in all, MacDonald yearns to resist sin ("Beautiful Darkside," "Heaven and Hell," "Dead Rose") and to pursue a meaningful existence ("The Precipice," "Let Me Die," "What I'd Give Up"), and they're honorably- and earnestly-explored journeys. The simmering passion for fixing the status quo is still there, but it's far more agreeable, and that's only a benefit to Phoenix's theme.
Upon surveying Phoenix through and through, it's still clear that The Classic Crime is still very capable of exploring more avenues, but The Silver Cord has yet to be surpassed. Of course, The Silver Cord: Part II isn't going to happen, nor should it; it would be petty and impertinent to continually expect The Classic Crime to strive for that goal. But with Phoenix operating on a noticeably smaller scale (and Vagabonds even more so), it's difficult not to compare it to what is TCC's magnum opus, and there's plenty the quartet can do to change up their approach for another shot at their personal best, especially now as an independent band. While TCC continues to evolve lyrically and adapt to new circumstances, they now have the new goal of building back up to epic proportions, and it may be the next album before they truly reach it.
Despite any unrealized potential, Phoenix very accurately sums up The Classic Crime's approach as an independent band: a renewal of practical and thematic measures. TCC is more than willing to try new things and plow through their songwriting process with determination and conviction, and there's plenty to showcase as a driving, convincing, and always thoughtful rock project. With the band's Tooth & Nail days in the past, Phoenix rises from the ashes to thrust the foursome into a new chapter of more uncertainty-one that's begun with among the finest and most fiery of notes.- PReview date: 7/30/12, written by Roger Gelwicks of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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