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Review: The Used – “Heartwork”

They have exceeded expectations once again.  With their eighth studio album Heartwork, The Used pack a massive delivery of heavy-hitting rock mixed up with beautiful, symphonic melodies, new wave and poppy grooves, and abrasive, yet refreshing flavors of theatrics that we all love them for. 

You can stream the album here.

This is the sixth record they the group has done with the legendary producer John Feldman. Feldman has worked with groups like Panic! At the Disco, Blink-182, All Time Low, Sleeping With Sirens, Goldfinger, and so many more. Frontman Bert McCracken solely wrote six tracks on the album.  Heartwork yields an impressive 16-track lineup, standing at a total of a 46-minute run.  But let me tell you, that will be 46 minutes of being unable to skip or walk away from listening. 

Let’s dive in.

When I see an album with a lengthy track list, I make one of two immediate assumptions: one, the integrity of the album falls into a linear understanding with the songs cascading into one another from beginning to end. Two, you could grasp the essence of a record in a more split up understanding in pieces, like movements in a musical arrangement or acts in theatre.  I personally listened to Heartwork as if it was to be interpreted in movements, and it was all definitely a journey worth taking. I believe it can be taken as three all uniquely significant branches to the album.  

“Paradise Lost, a poem by John Milton” and “Blow Me (feat. Jason Aalon Butler)”, the first two singles of the work, kicked off the album elements that the rest of the album would follow suit with. This includes the catchy and bouncy choruses filled with punk-influenced instrumentals and emo-influenced lyricism, while also not being afraid to let their metal and post-hardcore influence to ring true. McCracken always delivers a well thought narrative to each of his songs, with these songs being no exception. 

The album’s first movement begins with the two initial tracks and concludes at the end of one of my personal favorite tracks, “Wow, I Hate This Song.” Ironic.  It’s a song fueled with a brutally honest perspective about the current flow of media, with a wonderful, musical representation of a generic-like poppy chorus in front of buried screams in unison, followed by a beautiful and orchestral chorus that’s unforgettable.  This track ends on an unresolved twist of notation and flows right into the experimental meat of the record.  

This next expedition into organic sounding movement of this record starts with “My Cocoon.” a beautiful, melancholy intermission that rings with McCracken’s soulful belts.  Two notable tracks from this excerpt are “1984 (infinite jest)” and the title track “Heartwork”, which I believe to be the conclusion of this second movement. 

“1984 (infinite jest)” literally kept me guessing in the best way as to what was coming next during its not even three minute runtime.  The progression goes from an eerie atmosphere to a build up that conveys a wonderful suspension.  From here is where the real magic happens in the chorus.  Ignorance is this” is uttered through a whisper multiple times on top of a very solemn snap and metronome before evolving into a riff full of drive.  The rest of the song follows suit until close to the end of the song where it becomes another sincere sounding orchestral piece only to abruptly end by some blast beats.  Very The Used. 

Each song in this movement has a unique flavor to it that cleanses the palette briskly, yet satisfyingly moving from one to another.  Concluding on the spoken word and uniquely engineered, and powerfully embodied title track “Heartwork.”  The words spoken of kindness speak volumes far above what your volume knob can deliver.  All other songs in this movement fulfill a place of sustenance of catchy beats, melodies, and heartstring-pulling lyrics that this group has become iconic for.  This leads the listener to the last, and more industry driven movement.

Several songs on the last leg of the album include some accomplished features, such as Mark Hoppus, Travis Barker, and Caleb Shomo. I believe that if you wanted to introduce The Used to a friend that was trying to get into alternative music, this would be a perfect little taste of veterans of the craft can offer. It capsulates every notion that each unique artist features in the songs a mix of the groups writing styles and the respective artists’ perfectly. 

Caleb Shomo’s relentless lyrics and vocal power on “The Lottery,” Travis Barker’s flowing grooves and drives with his drumming on “Obvious Blasé,” and Mark Hoppus’ catchy and emotionally heartfelt melodies on “The Lighthouse.”  The album finishes off with the biggest sounds and full instrumentation and drive that fill your listening room with angst, emotion, and intellectual songwriting that make you wanna check that you had your player on repeat for the album.  

The Used prove they still hold their spot in the alternative genre elite, and after all this pandemic nonsense blows over, the overwhelming fanbase and I cannot wait to see them perform this album live along with all their previous hits. 

Heartwork is for the history books, and it’s also been delivered with four visual lyric videos and two visual music videos, along with a livestream launch party that the group did live on the day of its release. 

Maybe we’ll have our early 2000s scene days revived with a My Chemical Romance and The Used co-headliner in the future when all these current global affairs cool off.  But regardless, I am so utterly thankful I have these new bops on my playlist to thoroughly enjoy.

Stream Heartwork here and follow the band on Facebook to keep up to date with what they have in store. As of right now, the band is scheduled to perform at Common Ground Music Festival this year with Blink-182. Updates regarding the status of the festival due to COVID-19 can be found here.

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Photo of The Used at Disrupt Music Festival 
Header photo by Brian Cox
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