The Used has seemed to operate in a perpetual state of inspiration, enthusiasm, and genius throughout the years. Their brand of rock music has proven so influential over the past two decades, with all their previous records more explosive and iconic than the other. Each one established them as a household name time and time again. This worked to no surprise in their favor as they dove in on their eighth record. Their fiery lyrics on the deluxe version of Heartwork take on a newfound light while remaining familiar over a year later, playing like a baggy shirt. It is at its baggiest that a t-shirt feels most comfortable after all. Their most welcoming and solace-giving collection of songs.
Though the band seems to have overhauled, and claim “not a moment of [their] time in the studio for the Heartwork sessions was wasted”, the album couldn’t be mistaken for the product of anyone else but The Used. The music conveys a sense of unease as well as comfort due to the themes of the songs. Somewhere between waiting for the anesthesia to kick in and waiting to see the bright side of waking up and being alone. As promised, the extra 11 songs in the deluxe edition are unyielding. Even the catchy songs on the original release are filtered through a forbidden curtain you want to explore further.
“Paradise Lost, a poem by John Milton” exhumes romanticism and pietism (as suggested by the title of the track). I think it’s vital to analyze the first track on any album; as it sets the tone for the entire work. Once again the guys nailed it with turbulent, call-and-response hooks that materialize as an instant classic. The record moves forward with very streamlined lyrics. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just that the quality is what you would expect from them. It allowed them more maneuverability and subtle variations in the actual sound. The Used songs can’t be confined to a single camp, with this album we see so much more.
The “pretty” ones. Like “Cathedral Bell” which is one of my personal favorites. Has a very ethereal sound, that doesn’t quite match the tense feeling the lyrics describe. “The Lighthouse” with an exciting feature from Mark Hoppus, is a little more positive. “River Stay” is a resilient and anti-closure anthem. (“I can’t make the river stay. Forcing me to walk away. Nothing left for me to say.”) And “Sing Out Of Tune” with some of the best imagery they offered on the record. The “ground zero” ones like “Obvious Blasé” featuring serial pop-punk collaborator, Travis Barker. “Darkness Bleeds, FOTF” is yet another favorite offering “single” energy despite not being released as such. And “Love Heart” which epics a lover’s lament.
The “aggressive” ones like “Blow Me”, “BIG WANNA BE”, “The Lottery”, and “Blood Meridian”. These will make you wish you were jumping around at a show. I can imagine the post-show sleep after hearing these live would also be the best night sleep of your life. Enough said. And even the “party” ones like electrifying “Clean Cut Heals” and “Mi Medicina, Mi Heroína”. It makes this their most diverse record, and they emit confidence every single second. Even the all-texture tracks are driven by lyrics more than rhythm; they contribute to the overarching flow rather than against it.
Scientific studies have shown how even sad music can also be cathartic, how laughter and crying aren’t too different on the emotional spectrum. I even attended a virtual laughter meditation (it’s a real thing I promise) once that asked participants to yes, you guessed it, cry. Believe me when I say it works, and it makes sense. Many artists’ work this year and last have shared Heartwork’s apocalyptic and unsure nature. Sometimes, you just need to scream sing. And I think we all needed that last year, and continue to need this one. Which makes the deluxe version coming out a year later very fitting. And while the typical Covid-19 jokes come easy, we can look at this record in the context of being just another day as well. Whether you are a long-time listener of The Used or not, this is a time of disagreement, conflict, and so much stress. The thriving of Heartwork is due to how it brings you up close and personal to the evil that human beings can do to one another from a safe distance. To be stunned, repulsed, and afflicted by it.