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Every Alkaline Trio album ranked from worst to best

Alk 3
(Image credit: Jonathan Weiner)

Most bands start out strong, hit a peak or plateau, then fall off a cliff. Alkaline Trio are not most bands. In fact, ask any two Alkaline Trio fans what the band’s greatest album is and there’s a fair chance you’ll get two different answers. Even main men Matt Skiba and Dan Andriano are on record disagreeing about what their best and worst releases are.

Maybe there’s no consensus about what’s hot and what’s not in the Alk3 vaults because the McHenry, Illinois punks have put out a consistently strong series of records. Even their foibles and misfires tell tales of lives well-lived. Combining bar-soaked wisdom and poetic lyrical turns spiked with a grim sense of gallows humour, they’ve come a long way from their angsty early days, and continue not just to survive, but to thrive. Not bad for a band whose members have always seemed so dead set on self-destruction.

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9. Agony & Irony (2008)

If Alkaline Trio diehards are divided about which album reigns supreme as the band’s strongest, most converge on Agony & Irony as their catalogue’s weak spot. Coincidentally, it captures the Chicago crew at their most polished, putting all that first-time-on-a-major-label money to thorough use. But while tracks like I Found A Way and Calling All Skeletons are dipped in a familiar coating of deceptively perky doom, the record shoots for the stars and falls short.

Trusted long-time collaborator Jerry Finn had tragically passed away at the age of 39 just months before, and Matt Skiba was making a record while sober for the first time. The band even welcomed MTV reality show The Hills in to film some of the recording sessions. All in all, things were just off, and a disaster seemed almost certain.

Ultimately, no such thing transpired - Agony & Irony displays a lot of versatility and throws in comfort zone-evading curveballs like experimental Norwegians Ulver contributing strings – but it lacks the spirit of the band that long-time fans first fell for.

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8. This Addiction (2010)

When Agony & Irony’s attempt at radio-friendly anthemic rock wasn’t quite met with the hoped-for acclaim and commercial success, Alkaline Trio regrouped and got back to doing what they do best. They also did a lot of drugs.

Holing up together in a rented apartment in Chicago, the three-piece partied as hard as they played, emerging with a record that harkened back to their roots. With some trumpet (on Lead Poisoning) added in for good measure. Recording at Atlas Studio and enlisting the services of Matt Allison again, who produced their first three albums, helped immensely. As did forming their own label, Heart & Skull, in conjunction with Epitaph.

Righting the course sent slightly wayward on their previous album, This Addiction is pretty remarkable given how addled they apparently were in the process. But by delving back into the dark stuff – addiction as metaphor for love, themes of suicide, the usual – Alkaline Trio reclaimed a little of the soul they’d lost while chasing success. Ironically, in doing so, they achieved their highest chart position to date in the US, peaking at number 11.

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7. My Shame Is True (2013)

For the band’s Elvis Costello-referencing eighth album, Alkaline Trio turned to another musical hero, working with Descendents drummer Bill Stevenson, who co-produced alongside Jason Livermore. Made against the backdrop of yet more personal strife for Matt Skiba, detailing romance gone awry, and written as a sort of “pseudo concept album” apology letter to his ex (who features on the cover art), it finds Skiba in contrite and typically self-lacerating form.

On the urgency of I, Pessimist, Dan Andriano duets wonderfully with Rise Against man Tim McIlrath, and lead single I Wanna Be A Warhol brings in The Lawrence Arms’ Brendan Kelly for some extra grit. But despite these plus points, My Shame Is True lacks a little of the universal punch that makes the band’s most personal material feel almost applicable to anyone. On the other hand, it worked out well for Matt Skiba, as he subsequently reunited with his partner, post-release.

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6. Is This Thing Cursed? (2018)

The band’s most recent effort is a ton of good-old fashioned unclean Trio fun, with some particularly notable high spots (Heart Attacks, Worn So Thin). It shows no signs of rust, despite the five-years that had passed since they last recorded together, with Matt Skiba returned from his spell filling Tom DeLonge’s shoes in Blink-182, to remind the world what he was made of again.

The results bear all the hallmarks of classic Alkaline Trio, imbued with all the gloom, nihilism, and melodic macabre that you could wish for without falling into the trap of fan-servicing nostalgia. While speculation about the future of the band raged, they responded in the most affirmative terms possible, proving that rumours of their demise were greatly exaggerated.

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5. Maybe I’ll Catch Fire (2000)

Maybe I’ll Catch Fire was recorded in a blur over two short weeks, made more as a means to keep the show on the road and momentum ticking along than with any grand artistic design. Yet it does boast a handful of Alk3’s most beloved songs and evergreen fan favourites.

The title-track, Fuck You Aurora, and Radio – complete with that unforgettably visceral opening line, ‘Shaking like a dog shitting razorblades’ – might sound like the work of a band made of stoic stuff, but the record belies the bruised fragility under their tough exterior. It’s vintage Trio at their drunkest, angsty peak, often landing in that niche-nailing sweet spot between belligerent and boisterous, and morose self-loathing.

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4. Crimson (2005)

Five years on from Maybe I'll Catch Fire, Alkaline Trio would be spending a lot more time and money making records, and Crimson would be the band’s most thought-out collection. Commercial success duly followed, as did predictable criticism from some older fans, thanks to the introduction of orchestral instrumentation, electronic elements, more piano and slower songs.

Those songs started to look outward more too – the brilliant Sadie was written about Manson cult killer Susan Atkins – as the band dared to break new ground. A lack of the usual lyrical self-loathing and typical Trio tropes makes this one less of a diehard favourite, but it’s hard to deny that it’s the band at their most musically accomplished.

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3. From Here To Infirmary (2001)

With From Here To Infirmary, Alkaline Trio truly arrived, shedding the baby fat of their youth to produce a much more streamlined and skilled account of themselves. At a time when music television could still launch careers, the clips for singles Stupid Kid and Private Eye helped propel the band from the cult punk toilet circuit and into the homes of mainstream audiences.

They were ready, with a distinctive image that flirted with the dark side, and songs of irrepressible energy that handily placed them in a grey area between the burgeoning pop-punk and emo scenes of the time. That adrenalised hybrid Misfits-meets-Ramones sound felt fresh and exciting then, and, two decades later, FHTI stands up as one of their most cohesive records.

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2. Goddamnit (1998)

The sound of a band let loose from the garage, drunkenly swinging and singing songs about breakups, heartache, suicide, and how much they hate cops. It’s very much a moment in time record, preserved in all its ugly beauty.

Though bassist/vocalist Dan Andriano would make his mark in a big way later on, the band’s early blasts mostly came courtesy of the barbed tongue of Matt Skiba. Here, in the full flush of youth, he’s caught drinking through the pain until his liver is pickled, with a purity of spirit about the whole affair that’s infectious.

In the staccato punch of My Little Needle and the acoustic lament of Sorry About That, Alkaline Trio were already laying foundations, establishing styles, and toying with themes that they would return to again and again. Impressive work for a couple of teenagers.

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1. Good Mourning (2003)

The first Alkaline Trio album to feature Derek Grant on drums saw the Chicago trio crystalize and perfect the blueprint established on their first three records. Matt Skiba might have been thoroughly miserable and punching holes in walls in the process of making it, but that suffering made for the most compelling art. The singer’s raspy voice feels like it’s on the verge of breaking (he’d later need surgery) and that tension is right on the surface throughout.

Dan Andriano is on fine form too, taking the lead on many of the album’s highlights. On One Hundred Stories he sings ‘This bed is too big to sleep in, and I’m dying just to feel you breathe’, capturing the kind of expertly realised minutiae that elevates their songs and separates Alk3 from the average mall-punk wannabes.

There’s also the propulsive, addictive thrust of We’ve Had Enough (featuring backing vocals from Keith Morris of Circle Jerks) which is masterful example of the band in top gear. With a solidified line-up, a refined sound, smoother production, and more expansive instrumentation, Alkaline Trio excelled themselves.

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Formerly the Senior Editor of Rock Sound magazine and Senior Associate Editor at Kerrang!, Northern Ireland-born David McLaughlin is an award-winning writer and journalist with almost two decades of print and digital experience across regional and national media.