Album Review: The Used “Heartwork” Is A Breath of Fresh Nostalgia
“Heartwork is the culmination of all seven of its predecessors, drawing inspiration and familiarity from the past to make the future brighter.”
It’s 2020 and for many their world has been turned upside down thanks to COVID-19, people are social-distancing, not seeing friends, family or their favorite bands live. For many, It’s a time of discomfort, sadness, and uncertainty but like with many situations in our lives, music saves us from those feelings and one album that will be a major player in that is Heartwork.
The Used have once again teamed up with long time producer John Feldmann. Heartwork for that reason has a familiarity to it, the sounds reminiscent of the band’s greatest hits. After all, John has produced some of The Used’s biggest albums.
Heartwork isn’t a repeat by any means, however, the band’s latest offering has its classic pop-rock feel but also features the band taking a journey on the experimental side of electronic music and even some hip-hop influence.
The album features a ton of guest appearances from some of the biggest and most creative musicians in the music world giving The Used an opportunity to do some genre-bending. Guests include drummer Travis Barker and vocalist/bassist Mark Hoppus of Blink 182 along with Beartooth’s Caleb Shomo and Jason Aalon Butler of Fever 333.
The album begins with the single “Paradise Lost, a poem by John Milton.” Catchy riffs carry you through a punk rock groove. As with all of vocalist Bert McCraken’s lyrics, the singer takes you on a deep dive, exploring the struggles within his own mind. Lyrics like “Can’t bring myself to cut ties. I know you better than anyone. Blessed with this curse my whole life, won’t let me shake the shadow” follow McCraken’s trend of keeping songs brutally honest and relatable, something that has kept The Used so respected and loved throughout the years.
“Blow Me” is a track that features Fever 333’s, Jason Aalon Butler. The song begins with rolling drums before going into a bouncy verse and features a classic The Used-style catchy chorus. “What if you found a gun? Would you use it like I did? Put a bullet in my head? I don’t think you could. No, it isn’t in your blood. The little boy inside my head, What if you found a gun?” The track features signature vocals by Butler and breaks into a frantic breakdown towards its end.
Up next is the anthem-like chorus of “Big, Wanna Be.” The track finds Bert once again using wordplay which he does quite well. The song is atmospheric and synth-driven, one of the many experimental tracks on Heartwork without going too far out of the band’s realm.
“Bloody Nose” is raw and feels like classic The Used. It’s a transition piece before heading into the album’s fifth track “Wow, I Hate This Song” which is ironic and playful and strangely delicate in nature. “Wow, I hate this song. Each time it comes on. I hate this song. Each time it comes on. La la la make it stop. La la la heard enough. La la la holy fuck. I don’t wanna sing along. La la la make it stop. La la la heard enough. La la la holy fuck. I hate this song.”
The minute-long soft-spoken and atmospheric tune “My Cocoon” is what I feel is a transitional point in the record. From here we really get to see some new things out of The Used. Notably. that transition begins with “Cathedral Bell” which is one of my favorite tracks on Heartwork. It’s different and I mean that in the best way. It’s a nice addition to the album with electronic-thumping bass and Bert’s poem-like delivery of the lyrics. It’s truly the band giving it a go at new styles and it fits fabulously into the mix.
“1984 (infinite jest)” begins with an eerily familiar Nightmare Before Christmas vibe and at latter moments kind of feels like Panic At The Disco had a child with The Used and made a Highschool Musical, the song’s sound resulting in whatever that merge would sound like. It’s almost distinguishably difficult to truly define other than strange. After quite a few listens, I still can’t honestly understand how I feel about it. It’s been a long time since a track has both amazed and confused me simultaneously. Make of it what you will, it’s truly for you to hear and discover how you feel about it.
“Gravity’s Rainbow” begins with a string section before blasting its way into heavy guitars. It’s vocally and lyrically powerful and features multiple musical styles intertwined. The chorus is sung with a tone of hope and empowerment. “Walking with the fire. Covered in flames, I’ma come out a survivor. Hot headed. Hot headed. Close the door on who I was. Walking with the fire I made peace with the light.” Bert’s vocals are impressive as hell on this track and the harmony through the chorus is beautiful.
“Clean Cut Heals” wins for the most experimental and, dare I say, poppy song on Heartwork with the four-piece taking a completely new direction to their songwriting.
The album’s title track “Heartwork” is nearly a minute and a half of spoken-word style lyrical delivery with a hip-hop-inspired chorus, rage-filled and literal.
Switching tones from there is “The Lighthouse” featuring Mark Hoppus of Blink 182 offering an emotional and cinematic pre-chorus before McCraken comes in with the raw and uplifting chorus. “I can be your lighthouse. I can be your lighthouse. I can be your lighthouse. I can be your lighthouse.”
The Used once again pay tribute to their musical past on the Travis Barker featured “Obvious Blase.” The Blink 182 drummer helps out on drum duty making for rock fury, this is the old school The Used sound we’ve all grown to know and love. On the other side is the new and now in the form of “The Lottery” which features Beartooth’s Caleb Shomo. The track is faster, more intense, and even features an intense breakdown towards the latter half of the song.
As Heartwork nears its end we get “Darkness Bleeds, FOTF,” a fast-paced punky riff and covered drummed Used track with headbanging chorus. Seriously, if it doesn’t make your head bounce you might not be human. Sonically it’s massive and the drums are the star of the show here. I recommend playing this one while you’re going for a drive maybe on your weekly grocery store run because it’s a driving song for sure.
The album’s final send-off “To Feel Something” is, in my opinion, the perfect ending to Heartwork. It’s soft, emotional, raw, and honest. It’s moving in the same way “Blue and Yellow ” hit me back in the day. No, it doesn’t sound the same by any means. but it felt familiar and made me feel the way that old The Used moved me. The song transitions from a moving and beautiful moment of vulnerability to painful screams to close out the latest chapter of the band.
Heartwork, in a nutshell, has a little bit of everything, the classic The Used feel we’ve all grown up with and the lyrical vulnerability and honesty that has pulled many of us through some of our darkest moments. Along the way, it gives us a taste of new directions and the band’s ability to push the envelope maybe even sometimes past our comfort zone. But all in all, Heartwork is the culmination of all seven of its predecessors, drawing inspiration and familiarity from the past to make the future brighter.