The fourth album from the onetime kings of screamo features new drummer Dan Whitesides, new producer Matt Squire (Panic! At the Disco) and a comparatively clearer life outlook for formerly drama-plagued frontman Bert McCracken. Unfortunately, the end result continues in the same vein as The Used’s two most recent clunkers.
Loosely grouped around the concept of self-hatred, the 11 pop/hard-rock hybrids are as raw, dark and unpolished as the band allegedly intended. But they’re also surface-deep and uninspired, lacking indications of musical evolution or emotional insight. At least McCracken’s old habit of vomiting onstage stemmed from angst-overloaded banshee shrieks decrying the affront that is basic human survival.
Apparently, uplifting, fist-pumping melodies remain a thing of the past as well. Judging by Artwork, what remains of 2002’s determined teenagers are those exact same teenagers, only more sullen and jaded than ever. McCracken retains a fascination with violence (decent, aggressive opener “Blood on My Hands”), croons awkward eternal-love ballads (“Kissing You Goodbye”) and imagines apologetic alternate realities for Heath Ledger (“Meant to Die”). After a history of drugs, religious oppression and toxic relationships, who’d have thought a simple case of arrested development would be the nail in the band’s creative coffin?