Album review: The Used – Toxic Positivity

The Used give the human mind a probing on fascinating but flawed ninth album…

Album review: The Used – Toxic Positivity
James Hickie

The Used and John Feldmann go together like Han Solo and Chewbacca, gin and tonic, chips and dips. Unlike those celebrated combos, however, you’re never quite sure how this meeting of band and producer will manifest itself next, given its pivots over the years, even if the results are rarely less than interesting. On The Used’s 2002 self-titled debut, it was a sound akin to lassoing a tornado. Imaginary Enemy, in 2014, illustrated that growing up and speaking out needn’t be mutually exclusive. And more recently, 2020’s Heartwork reflected the busyness and fluidity of the modern music landscape.

If we’re thinking about things in headline terms, then the most obvious thing to say about Toxic Positivity, The Used’s ninth studio album is that it focuses on mental health. While that’s a topic well covered by lyricists, particularly in recent years, when it’s Bert McCracken, one of punk rock’s most soul-baring practitioners, examining his own, then the prospect becomes more intriguing.

Opener The Worst (Worst I’ve Ever Been) finds Bert in fraught mode, awash in a sea of slick sonics – the man with more than a decade of sobriety suggesting its time to ‘Cue the drugs and violence’. As an exploration of someone living at the intersection of anxiety and addiction (‘Desolation kicking in’), it’s powerful.

Coming from another mouth, turns of phrase like ‘Solder new neural pathways deep in my brain’ – from the excellent Headspace – might seem excruciatingly erudite, but that’s what we want from our frontman: uncomfortable honesty, verbosity and vim. If there’s a complaint to be had with Toxic Positivity, it’s that the music isn’t always as interesting as these lines of thought. With its hip-hop hat tip, I Hate Everybody is almost jarring in its derivativeness, while Pinky Swear’s overly muscular verses detract from the loveliness of its chorus – a loveliness further showcased on the twinkling House Of Sand.

The odd disappointing or obvious moment aside, Toxic Positivity is a strong addition to a catalogue. It’s not the best entry, mind, though The Used’s albums work on the listener over time, so who knows where it’ll end up in the affections of fans. And speaking of scrutiny, where are the songs Fuck You and People Are Vomit, released in October and February respectively, and both supposedly cuts from their forthcoming album? Neither has made the cut.

Anyway, in the here and now and with this tracklisting, Toxic Positivity is a vibrant experience, dazzlingly present and characteristically honest, that will invite both qualities in those intoxicated by its charms.

Verdict: 3/5

For fans of: Thursday, Taking Back Sunday, Turnstile

Toxic Positivity is released on May 19 via Hassle

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