Behold the latest entry in the "let's-give-our-disc-a-name-that-makes-it-easy-for-critics-to-bash-us" sweepstakes: Searching for a Former Clarity. The third album by Against Me!, however, fails spectacularly to live down to its title. Even sharper and more focused than 2003's As the Eternal Cowboy, these fourteen songs plumb the band's seemingly bottomless well of passion, soul and inventiveness. The group has always possessed a scattershot energy and brilliance, but this is singer-songwriter Tom Gabel at his best, warping riffs and lyrics into a genre-oblivious embrace of the rock lexicon not fully realized since the Clash. Stirring spaghetti-Western twang and tongue-in-cheek chunks of dance punk into its spew of guttural, distorted folk, Clarity makes one thing perfectly clear: Gabel -- who started Against Me! as a humble solo project at the age of seventeen -- is one step closer to joining the pantheon of raw-throated punk poets like Blake Schwarzenbach, Billy Bragg and Joe Strummer himself. The search is over.
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