Arkells – Rally Cry [Album Review]

Commentary, Music

A theme of solidarity runs through Arkells’ latest record, a collection of rock anthems about love, righteous anger, and community.

The titular “rally cry” comes up on the third track, as lead singer Max Kerman serves up the album’s mantra: “Mix some blood, sweat, and tears of joy / That’s what I call a rally cry.” The song, “Relentless” is a classic ode to summer nights and long drives, and seems destined to become a live staple.

The Hamilton five-piece is one of Canada’s best live acts, their performances easily exceeding even the best of their recordings. Rally Cry is a great album, but I can’t shake the feeling that these songs will truly come into their own when played onstage in front of thousands of rapt fans.

The strength of the album experience, however, is that it rewards repeated listenings. Rally Cry is the kind of record that could almost pass as regular crowd-pleasing arena rock if you didn’t dig deeper.

Arkells have a Tragically Hip-ish tendency to bury darker meanings under euphoric choruses and radio friendly riffs. “People’s Champ” is an indignant protest song set to an irresistibly funky beat, and “American Screams” is a very catchy disco track about religious hypocrisy. There’s a bittersweet tinge to “Only for a Moment,” where a night at a karaoke bar provides a brief escape for a couple facing some grim news (it took me several listens to realize that the buoyantly-sung line “The doctor says it might run in the family” might be literal).

Arkells’ knack for hyper-specific storytelling remains intact. Album-opener “Hand Me Down,” addressed to a teen with a troubled home life, is as much a character study as an empowerment anthem. And vivid details (“You’re up in Berlin at 8 am / I’m in Montreal still going strong”) add a personal touch to tender love songs like “Show Me Don’t Tell Me.”

The political songs here are among the band’s best. “People’s Champ” boasts some of their most scathing lyrics (“I promise you, no charlatan has ever died a martyr”) – although “Company Man,” the album’s penultimate track, comes close.

That said, it’s not all doom and gloom – this is a rally, after all. Fittingly, “Eyes on the Prize” is a jubilant pump-up song, and “Saturday Night” evokes the feel of those seemingly endless weekend nights spent with friends, “drinking from the fountain of youth,” “talking about conspiracy theories.” But Arkells are at their best when they’re at their most intimate, like on “Hand Me Downs” or closing track “Don’t Be A Stranger,” a gentle olive branch to a troubled friend.

Defiant, angry, and kind in equal measure, Rally Cry is the album we needed in 2018.

Title: Rally Cry

Artist: Arkells

Year: 2018

Tracklist:

  1. Hand Me Downs
  2. American Screams
  3. Relentless
  4. Only for a Moment
  5. Show Me Don’t Tell Me
  6. People’s Champ
  7. Eyes on the Prize
  8. Saturday Night
  9. Company Man
  10. Don’t Be a Stranger

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