Feeling angry? Bitter? Insecure? Fear not, you are not the only one: Billy Talent rode an emo-core (read: mopey but furious) wave to great effect with their debut, self-titled effort. Much to the inevitable delight of their faithful following, very little has changed for its successor, the originally entitled Billy Talent II.
Recent lead single Devil In A Midnight Mass has the Toronto four-piece starting as they mean to go on, the bone-bruising riff announcing an intention to out-scream earlier material. Ian D’Sa, as ever, is Billy Talent’s WMD, his lightning-fast fretwork and top-of-the-lungs harmonies (if you can call them that) providing lead singer Ben Kowalewicz with the charged backing he needs.
Changes are to be found on Billy Talent II, though they are subtle (a word not often associated with emo-core). Worker Bees and Red Flag, for instance, appear to portray the band’s political agenda, but are still anchored to teen angst themes and, to be honest, a little too simplified to be taken seriously (“The kids of tomorrow don’t need today / when they live in the sins of yesterday”).
They soon return to their strengths, however: This Suffering is unapologetically self-pitying, wrought through complicated, stop-start riffing and a hefty slice of angry duetting in the chorus; Pins And Needles pulls of a similar trick at slower speed, exhibiting Billy Talent’s knack for making softer sound harder; Where Is The Line evolves from debut LP cast-off to an eminently likeable Fall Out Boy-type sing-along. Not a massive departure, but fresh ground nonetheless.
The zenith is ultimately reached in the form of Surrender. Though evidently not to everybody’s taste (perhaps not even their own fans), it’s a track that suggests the band have spent a semester at the Incubus School of Balladeering; all arpeggio chords, near-spoken verses and an ear-pricklingly good chorus in which Kowalewicz spouts poetic couplets over D’Sa’s elongated call of “Surrender (yourself to me)”. It’s a great track in itself, and, as importantly, proof that Billy Talent have the potential to grow beyond their genre.
Thereafter comes the inevitable – but still enjoyable – downturn, complete with In The Fall’s ascending/descending melodies and perfectly measured choral climax, the obligatory palm-muting dynamic in Sympathy and, ultimately, another ballad in the form of Burn The Evidence (sounding a bit like the first album’s potent Nothing To Lose – alienation through excessive experimentation is something these boys are too smart to fall for).
Billy Talent II, then, doesn’t put a foot wrong – but is that such an achievement when you’re treading the same line you opted for last time around? In this instance, it’s certainly not a crime; there’s plenty of mileage left in Billy Talent’s brand of emo-core, and as long as they’re willing to articulate it, there’ll be somebody willing to listen.