By Brian Turk
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That security has had an impact on his role as a musician, Battenhouse adds. "It's definitely helped me to process that and helped me to feel like I have a place creatively." Whether it's because Battenhouse has been part of the group for multiple years or because of a natural maturing process, the band sees Venom and Pride as a creative watershed. Just as Politics refined the '90s rock template, Venom and Pride strives for a new chapter.
For Curtis, that growth hasn't necessarily been easy. The lead singer has taken on a new role as guitarist on the release, but what stands out to him on first listen are the darker lyrical undertones. While tunes like "Stay Away" and "Forever" bear elements of past releases, it's their content that makes them stand out. Amid Curtis's rapid-fire delivery of words and images, it's easy to pick out moments of loss and dilemmas: "Don't move a muscle 'cause I ain't finished yet," Curtis sings on "Forever." "I said I love you, but I'm prone to forget...I said forever, but forever is in doubt." The words from "The Union" offer similarly bitter undertones: "Hope you dream of love, and when you kiss his lips, he'll be a lot like me."
"I love the songs, but I'll tell you, they make me extremely sad," Curtis confesses. "It's almost painfully honest; it upsets me to listen to them sometimes. It's pretty intense.... This one is just darker for me than anything else."
It's not as though Politics, with its themes of weakness and guilt, didn't veer into dark territory. Still, the bandmembers insist, Venom and Pride seeks to boil that down to a feel that is even more immediate and accessible.
That may stem from the shifting landscape of popular music, they admit. What was generically referred to as "modern rock" in the '90s has since found a more mainstream spot; what was the gritty middle ground between pop and metal has found a greater acceptance and a wider audience.
Still, much of that polish and maturity is the inevitable result of years spent together, of maintaining a sound through personnel shifts and personal crises.
"Some bands say, 'We're going to revamp,' but we never did that," Towne concludes. "We never took a strong stance on adjusting our sound. As musicians, we changed. From Plan B to Politics was five years; a lot happened. A lot of things change."