ALBUM REVIEW: The Used – ‘Heartwork’

Words by Sam Townsend


Mainstayers of the emo scene The Used are back with a star-studded 16 song tracklist LP, ‘Heartwork’.  The four-piece rock band from Utah, USA, gave us our first taste of the highly anticipated follow up to 2017’s ‘The Canyon’ in December 2019 with the release of Blow Me, a throwback to the sounds of Lies for the Liars era though with a heavier extension, re-engaging with their established fan base.

‘Heartwork’ is the eighth LP for the band, and their first since signing with Goldfinger front man, super-producer, and long time collaborator John Feldman’s label, Big Noise.  With ‘Heartwork’, The Used and John Feldman have come full circle; Feldman was key in signing The Used to their first label in 2002, likewise, in a recent interview with The Alternative Press, Feldman described The Used as the catalyst for starting his career as a producer.  ‘Heartwork’ also sees a change in lineup for The Used, with Justin Shekoski’s departure replaced by Joey Bradford on guitar and backing vocals.

Feldman has described ‘Heartwork’ as a “career-defining album” for The Used, and it’s not hard to see why.

‘Heartwork’ opens with Paradise Lost, a poem by John Milton, the second single released in February 2020 and accompanied by the visually jarring music video.  Lead singer Bert McCracken’s vocals are instantly recognisable and the riff-heavy 2:29 song reminds us why the band have continued to dominate the scene for nearly 20 years.  Blow Me follows with a throwback to the Lies for the Liars era though with a much heavier extension.

Feldman’s presence on the album is clearly felt with Wow, I Hate This Song and enables McCracken’s impressive vocal range to be showcased.  This is the song that confirms if you like The Used you are going to love this LP (it’s the most replayed song in our house!).  Bringing you down from the crescendo of Wow, I Hate This Song is My Cocoon; the interlude for the music video of Paradise Lost, a poem by John Milton is used here on the LP as a nice transition between parts 1 and 2 of ‘Heartwork’.  Indeed, Cathedral Bell marks a departure from the heavier sounds of the first part of the album and introduces strings for the first time.  Though The Used are no strangers to a string ensemble Cathedral Bell offers an alternate interpretation to their previous emo tracks.

1984 (Infinite Jest) again leads with strings, though this time is accompanied by guitars, making for a darker, grander sound.  Previous albums from The Used have always included a big, stadium song and here is ‘Heartwork’s’ impressive performance.  Closing out the second part is Clean Cut Heals – straight out of left field and definitely not the song expected on an album by The Used but by no means is it out of place.  If anything, Clean Cut Heals magnifies just how versatile McCracken’s vocal and songwriting skills are across various music genres. 

Taking the pace back down again is the title track Heartwork, a spoken word piece. We’ve heard this from The Used before, with McCracken’s charisma and iconic snarl on display and leads nicely to the third part of the album, being a run of very solid tracks.

On Lighthouse the distinctive bass and vocal influence of Mark Hoppus (Blink 182, +44, Simple Creatures) can be heard, which is then followed by a collaboration with fellow Blink 182 member, Travis Barker on Obvious Blase.  In The Lottery McCracken’s vocals take somewhat of a backseat as the sound of distorted guitars cuts through, expressing the emotion of the song.  Indeed, on The Lottery we can actually envisage the guitarist front and centre on stage – a stinging reminder of those times when we could actually venture outside and see live music!  Much like The Lottery, Darkness Bleeds, FOTF is a layered song, full of emo angst; The Used at their best.  Closing out ‘Heartwork’ is slow burner To Feel Something, which again feels like quintessential The Used.

In a recent interview with The Alternative Press, McCracken described ‘Heartwork’ as having some of “the heaviest songs we’ve ever produced and the poppiest ones we’ve ever produced”, and I’d have to agree with this.  In ‘Heartwork’, The Used have delivered a solid album showcasing and building on their signature sound as well as charting new and interesting territory.  McCraken’s vocals are once again the standout, with a particular favourite being Wow, I Hate This Song. Whilst ‘Heartwork’ contains all the sounds and trimmings we’ve come to expect from The Used, at times it feels a little less cohesive compared to their earlier albums.  Whether that may be through geographical distance between members, or the varied line up, there were times where I longed for the instruments to cut though and display greater expression.  That said, I suspect after a season of touring, the tightness and expression will take many of these tracks to a new level.

Fans of The Used are no doubt disappointed the tour dates announced earlier this year have since been cancelled in light of the world’s current climate (particularly with rumours of a tour with recently reunited My Chemical Romance!), and ‘Heartwork’ is the album we need to get us through these hard times.

‘Heartwork’ is out on April 24 – Pre-Order / Pre-Save HERE



With thanks to Collision Course PR

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