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Alkaline Trio/Fall Out Boy 

Crimson (Vagrant)/From Under the Cork Tree (Island)

Despite punk's reputation as the music of the young, one of the genre's defining characteristics is the outpouring of respect continually paid to the style's elder statesmen. Even the traditionally baby-faced Warped Tour lineup includes a few graying mohawks each year to appease the old school.

But it becomes difficult to keep supporting veteran scenemakers when they start to produce tunes that sound way past their expiration date -- as the Alkaline Trio does on Crimson, its latest. The album does nothing to dispel the notion that the Chicago-based ghoulpunks have become less and less interesting as they've made more and more mainstream concessions.

The group's lyrics, previously as macabre and detailed as an Edward Gorey print, now sound like simplistic horror-film mad libs; phrases like "We're all fresh from the autoclave" are somehow supposed to convey depth. They don't. Jerry Finn's production makes Crimson's numbingly midtempo chugs sound lobotomized, while even the synth-heavy "Sadie" -- a reference to a member of the Manson family -- sounds like an overly dramatic Killers outtake.

Perhaps Crimson only sounds less dangerous because My Chemical Romance's fellow eyeliner-obsessives were somehow able to find mainstream success first. But it's more plausible that young bands like MCR have made the Trio obsolete. The same could be said of the Chicago pop-punk dynamo Fall Out Boy, whose addictive major-label debut, From Under the Cork Tree, is everything Crimson isn't.

Tree's plentiful hooks explode with melodic vigor and ADD-riddled riffs, while frantic flourishes -- Smiths-style shuffles, hardcore grandstanding, and shiny power pop -- ensure a lack of monotony. Although sonically slicker than 2003's breakout Take This to Your Grave, Fall Out Boy's notoriously clever song titles remain intact ("Seven Minutes in Heaven [Atavan Halen]"). Meanwhile, such tossed-off sentiments as "I'm falling apart to songs about hips and hearts" and "I'm two quarters and a heart down" encapsulate heartache without the usual skate-park clichés


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