For the first half of The Lawrence Arms’ career, the band proved itself to be a punk-rock workhorse. After releasing five full-lengths and a compilation, as well as touring relentlessly over the course of seven years, the fact that its members would occasionally turn up in other projects was a testament to their drive. This type of energy can only be sustained for so long, though, and following 2006’s Oh! Calcutta!, the trio pumped the brakes. But the result was harsher than the intended momentary reprieve, instead slowing the band’s momentum to a nearly dead stop. With its only new material being a five-song 2009 EP released to coincide with the band’s 10th anniversary, it seemed as if one-off shows were to become the Arms’ default state. Yet Metropole, the band’s sixth full-length (and first for Epitaph), benefits from the lengthy break as opposed to getting lost in it.
Since Oh! Calcutta!, each member has continued releasing new music under different pretenses: Guitarist and vocalist Chris McCaughan has dropped three albums of laidback indie-folk under the moniker Sundowner; bassist and vocalist Brendan Kelly has indulged his dark side with his backing band, the Wandering Birds; drummer Neil Hennessy formed Treasure Fleet and joined The Smoking Popes. Though the members’ creativity has yet to wane, when reconvened, The Lawrence Arms didn’t attempt to dam off these new endeavors, instead wisely allowing them to seep into Metropole’s waters. The title track opens with McCaughan’s swaying acoustic guitar, only to have it followed immediately by Kelly’s “Drunk Tweets,” a fuck you-laden punk song that takes a clear page from his work with the Wandering Birds. On “Beautiful Things,” McCaughan recalls his best work on the 2002 album Apathy And Exhaustion, and the tracks that bookend Metropole (“Chilean District” and “October Blood”) are updated takes on the Arms’ 2000 album, Ghost Stories.
On past albums, it’s been customary for McCaughan to anchor the band’s slower numbers, and though he does his fair share of that here, Kelly’s moving at a more demure clip as well, trading his raspy scream for a lower, slower rumble. Though Metropole lacks much of the rapid-fire construction of Oh! Calcutta!, the vocalists adopt that album’s duet singing style, punctuating this one with short, punk numbers and finding unity by aligning their vocals on the bulk of the album’s tracks.
In many ways, Metropole finds commonality with Superchunk’s Majesty Shredding, as both follow a period of silence, but see neither band attempting to play catch-up. Though the punk scene has changed dramatically since the band’s last album, The Lawrence Arms have re-established their place in it simply by staying the course and remaining self-assured.