I’m not quite sure when my fondness for a band called The Used started. I seem to remember hearing about a hyped band, from an article in Alternative Press, where producer and Goldfinger founder John Feldman was gushing over this band that he helped get signed to a major label. The Used were comprised of lead singer Bert McCracken, bassist Jeph Howard, drummer Branden Steineckert and guitarist Quinn Allman, and their incredible band chemistry was able to capture early and inescapable magic on their self-titled debut. The first track that I ever heard from The Used was “A Box Full of Sharp Objects” from a Warped Tour compilation, and it became increasingly evident to me that this band demanded to be taken seriously. The lead single from their debut LP was an abrasive, wall of sound effort that captured a punk rock spirit paired with screamo vocals that many other bands would emulate later in our scene. The Used would go on to sell over a million copies in the United States and cement the band’s legacy as one of the emo/punk scene’s primary front-runners.
The record opens in chaos. It features some out of tuned guitar sounds, background noise, and a faint siren that gets increasingly louder as the band finally gears up for their first major artistic statement on “Maybe Memories.” Bert McCracken makes his presence felt early as he goes casually from a scream to clean vocals in the first verse of, “As we trudge along through the mud / And we tried to call it home / But we weren’t alright, not at all / Not for one for one for one second.” It’s still a very moving listening experience and demands to be played loud to experience that energy that The Used bring forth in their epic live performances.
”The Taste of Ink” is a much more accessible single in that it’s based around a fairly simple riff and beat, while building up to the anthemic chorus of, “So here I am, it’s in my hands / And I’ll savor every moment of this / So here I am, alive at last / And I’ll savor every moment of this.” It’s basically a heavy pop song about being self conscious of taking that first dramatic leap forward in becoming the person we’re meant to be. Other early songs in the set like “Bulimic” showcase the personality of McCracken and his ability to control the attention of the listener through his impressive vocal styling and range. Quinn Allman does some really cool riffing in the background of this track that you can hear more clearly through a good pair of headphones. “Say Days Ago” is a similar-sounding song to “Bulimic” with its abrasive guitar tones, and frenetic drumming from Steineckert, and yet the material never gets bogged down in monotony. Quite the opposite, in fact, as The Used were making a name for themselves by stretching the boundaries of what rock, emo, and punk music could become.
The first ballad comes in the form of “Poetic Tragedy,” a crisp guitar-based song that finds McCracken’s lyrics pondering about life’s little contradictions. He sings in the first verse, “The cup is not half empty as pessimists say / As far as he’s sees, nothing’s left in the cup / A whole cup full of nothing for him to indulge / Since the voice of ambition has long since been shut up,” and its clear that his lyrics are well-crafted and tragically beautiful throughout the record. My personal favorite comes in the form of the hard-nosed mid-tempo song “Buried Myself Alive” that features a combination of screamed and clean vocals over some great riffing from Allman. Bassist Jeph Howard also has some great bass lines in this song that are worthy of praise in the pulsating song that marks such an important part of the success of The Used.
The second ballad, “Blue and Yellow,” features some of my favorite lyrics in the set as McCracken sings softly in the chorus, “Should’ve done something but I’ve done it enough / By the way your hands were shaking / Rather waste some time with you / Should’ve said something but I’ve said it enough / By the way my words were faded / Rather waste some time with you.” It’s a nice admission to hear someone declare their love for a person close to them and decide where they’d best place their time and efforts. Things continue to get interesting and turned on their head with “Greener With The Scenery,” which I’m always reminded of the studio video footage that showed band members throwing pots and pans at Bert as he recorded his screams on the bridge. You can actually hear a lot of this background noise as you re-listen to these frantic screams, and it speaks to the creativity of producer John Feldman in getting this type of performance from the front-man.
”Noise and Kisses” is another great song that is largely built around the chemistry between Allman and McCracken and showcases just how in tune they are to each other’s strengths as musicians. “On My Own,” on the other hand, allows the audience to take a quick breather and sing along to McCracken’s every vocal before the blistering closer of “Pieces Mended.” Songs like the album closer and the hidden track “Choke Me,” would give clues as to where The Used would take their sound on the albums that would follow in their storied and treasured discography. Probably my fondest memory of this album cycle was meeting Bert and Quinn and different album signing opportunities and telling them just how big of an impact their music was having on my personal development. Watching the band take up and comers on tour with them, including a little band called My Chemical Romance, showed me just how big The Used were capable of becoming. They certainly didn’t let these core opportunities go to waste, and would cement their legacy through their creative records that have stood the test of time.