There is a legion of Against Me! fans who want only for the band's music to sound exactly as it did on Reinventing Axl Rose -- scrappy punk/folk and nothing else. But with as talented a songwriter as Tom Gabel leading the way, it's ridiculous to think that the band would be satisfied complying. Growth is necessary; change is inevitable. In the case of New Wave, different doesn't automatically mean bad. As their first album on major label Sire, it's a straight-up rock record. Especially thanks to Butch Vig in the production seat, New Wave is crisp, direct, and sharp. It's clean, but not glossy; it's defiant; it's brash; it's heartfelt. And while it's true that New Wave doesn't initially hit with the same force as prior albums, a few spins later and the record has found its footing and sinks in brilliantly. Though the sound is not raw and gritty like those early days, the passion behind the songs is the exact same. There is a real sense of frustration guiding these tracks -- with society, with the music scene -- but as the title track incites, "We can be the bands we wanna hear/We can define our own generation," Against Me! shows resilience. The catchy bounce-step of songs like "Up the Cuts" and "Stop!" (one of their danciest numbers yet) recognizes the hollowness of fame and hype, and the former's probing "Are you restless like me?" is as urgent a plea as you'll hear on record this year. Lead single "White People for Peace" brilliantly acknowledges both the need for and futility of protest songs, one of many instances that prove that despite sonic changes, Gabel's tongue has only sharpened. Overall, the concise ten-song set is the most direct batch of songs Against Me! has written thus far, yet the band constantly mixes things up, as in the meditative closer, "The Ocean," the dark, fuzzed-out anti-romanticism of "Animal," and the realization of love faded in the arresting duet between Gabel and Tegan Quin (of Tegan and Sara) in "Borne on the FM Waves of the Heart." New Wave is over way too soon, but the vitality rippling through every barked word is electric and makes up for all left behind on the cutting room floor. It just means you can press repeat that much sooner. Signing to Sire didn't make the band sellouts -- especially not when the music is still delivered with as much steadfast conviction and genuine emotion as it is. Who knows where they'll go next, but as for the 2000s, Against Me! remains one of the most exciting and significant bands operating in punk.
AllMusic Review by Corey Apar