I’ve always hated the idea of a ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation: Putting a bunch singles together in a fancy new package with a couple of extra tracks (if you’re lucky!) and re-releasing them, to me, feels a little disingenuous – “Buy all the songs you already know and love…again!” So when Alkaline Trio announced Damnesia I, unlike the majority of the internet, was happy. It wasn’t just going to be a simple greatest hits album. It was going to be “re-imagined” versions of Trio classics, and that’s what we’ve got…kind of.
When I think of classic Trio tracks the last two albums don’t feature too heavily, if at all. That’s not to say they’re bad songs (I actually really like those albums), I just felt that they’re a little too recent for something like this. So kicking off this record with ‘Calling All Skeletons’ wouldn’t have been my first choice. Regardless, the new version is good. The eerie piano opening was a great way to open the record and I particularly like the Spanish-style guitar that’s been implemented throughout. Despite it being such a recent addition to the Trio catalogue, it’s one of the more interesting songs on the record.
Unfortunately this level of interest can’t be sustained throughout. Though each ‘re-imagined’ song is definitely more stripped down than the original, some of these tracks have barely been worked on. To call acoustic versions of old songs ‘re-imagined’ seems really lazy, and wasn’t something I expected. It’s not that these acoustic versions are bad, I actually really like them, but hearing the added instrumentation on tracks like ‘Radio’ and ‘The American Scream’, makes the purely acoustic songs seem a little lackluster. That’s not to say that adding new elements makes a song better. For example, ‘Private Eye’ sounds more like a more polished track from Matt Skiba’s solo album – It just doesn’t have that Trio sound I’m looking for.
The two new songs are good, but not great. ‘Olde English 800’ – presumably an ode to Skiba’s favorite lager – is catchy enough, but it feels a little too short. It’s got one of those added ‘sound effects’ that can be heard on recent Trio releases (the ‘ticking clock’ on ‘Lost And Rendered’, and the ‘scattering insects’ on ‘Dorothy’, e.t.c.) that usually sound out of place. However, I quite this one. Probably to the contrary of many other Trio fans. ‘I Was On A Rooftop’ is the other new addition on Damnesia. It being a ‘Dan song’, I was expecting a lot and it doesn’t really deliver. It’s got all the qualities of a Dan Andriano track, but there’s something missing that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps if they play it live with a full band it’ll click with me.
Alongside the two new tracks, there’s a cover of The Violent Femmes’ ‘I Held Her In My Arms’. This could be my favorite track on the record. They took a great song and made it their own, which is exactly what you want from a cover. I say they made it their own but, It’s got this ‘country punk’ vibe to it, and I actually think it sounds more like a Lucero song. My point is, that it’s great.
Billing this collection as “re-imagined” had me thinking we might here Dan covering one of Matt’s songs (and vice versa), or that the instrumentation might have been completely off the wall. On the whole I think Damnesia is a good record, I just wish there’d been more done with some of the songs than there was. Despite that, I think this was a good experiment. Trio shunned the traditional ‘Greatest Hits’ release in favor of something a little different, and they’ve got to be commended for that.