Time to make a confession: I was only a casual Alkaline Trio fan until the year that Agony & Irony came out. Sure, I owned Crimson and I liked the songs from Good Mourning, but none of that really changes the fact that I never considered myself a huge fan of the band until 2008.
With that in mind, maybe that's why I'm okay with the fact that Agony & Irony is a fairly big departure from the band's signature sound (so to speak... I guess after listening to Crimson it wasn't that big of a surprise that they were headed in a bigger sounding direction). I'm also okay with it being the band's major label debut (or their only major label album), but as far as I know the whole "signing to a major" thing didn't bother fans too much.
So, why do I like this album? It's a catchy, albeit dark, pop album. The band kind of loses the Misfits/Social Distortion stuff but they pick up more of a Cure-esque vibe. Maybe even a little bit of Pretty Hate Machine-era Nine Inch Nails. You know, the whole "dark pop" song thing that some bands have going on. I'm not too big on the whole "dark wave" scene, and I don't want to insult or incorrectly cite a band as a part of the movement, so I won't draw it out too much, but Alkaline Trio definitely used more keyboards on this album. Combined that with memorable hooks, and you get, from my understanding, a synth-heavy, post-punk album
The one thing that can be said about Alkaline Trio is that they can write a goddamn catchy song. Whether or not that song is a "good" song is (believe it or not) rather subjective and up to debate. But when they (mostly Matt Skiba) find a really good hook, they [he] abuse that hook to no end and wind up writing tunes that get stuck in my head with ease. While I'm sure being released on a major label had its perks, it doesn't really show all that much in the songs. Yeah there's an amped up production value, and the little things to them that make them stick out, such as the ticking clock sound on Lost and Rendered or the hand claps on Calling All Skeletons. Okay... so maybe those little things would've been there even if the band had stuck with Vagrant or something, but it's those little things that help make the songs stick out and give them some personality instead of just being a bland, straight-forward rock song.
Much like other albums that I've discussed in this column, Agony and Irony is a pretty polarizing album for fans, with most people hating it based on the fact that it sounds way too different than what people liked them for sounding like. But even if the band released an album that the fans wanted them to, it just would've been a bunch of modern punk songs aping the Misfits and Social Distortion and people would've called them out on that, too (which is exactly what happened when they released 2010's This Addiction). I'm going to end this one with a lyrics from Live Young, Die Fast (as heard on this very album). "I've never been big on originality." Think about it.