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CBN.comThroughout rock history, from OK Computer to War to London Calling, third albums have defined careers. With the bombastic, breathtaking Cities, Anberlin's cohesive and adventurous new album, the group puts itself in some esteemed company, with a modern classic that uplifts as much as it initiates thought and elicits emotion.

The Winter Haven, Florida-reared quintet--who have watched its career rise while touring with everyone from Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance to Yellowcard and Hawthorne Heights--doesn’t just build on the energy and determination of recent singles like “Paperthin Hymn,” “Feelgood Drag,” and “A Day Late.” Instead, Anberlin expands its grasp of what a rock record can be with the Aaron Sprinkle-produced Cities.

Be it the huge-sounding, memorable roar of “Reclusion” or the bright, infectious “Adelaide,” the writing team of singer Stephen Christian and guitarist Joseph Milligan drives Anberlin -- which also counts bassist Deon Rexroat, guitarist Nathan Strayerand drummer Nathan Young -- as it retains the airwave ready allure that earned the band a pair of radio hits last year. But, with the sprawling, epic “Fin*” and the gorgeous, lighter-ready “Unwinding Cable Car” the group vastly widens its musical boundaries on Cities.

“Anberlin has always had really good songs,” says Stephen of the group’s past output, which counts 2003’s Blueprints For The Black Market and their 2005 breakthrough Never Take Friendship Personal. “Still, I think this is the first time we’ve got a really great album. We spent most of our energy on the entire project over the individual songs.”

Friendship was a really big album for us,” admits Milligan of the worldwide success that sold in excess of 140,000 copies. “But Cities is such a shift from that. Because we were out on the road for so long behind our second record it actually gave me the time I needed to pace myself and bring in the strongest material I could.”

Crafted at Sprinkle’s Seattle-based Compound facility, with drums captured at the infamous London Bridge studio (where classic albums by Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Temple of the Dog and Blind Melon were realized), Milligan says he’s grateful for the opportunity to work where so many legendary discs were born. “It’s out in this wooded area, like 40 miles north of Seattle,” he says. “And there’s this incredibly huge live room there. So we all got together in pre-production to play out the songs and the place had the best feel to it. You actually felt like you were a part of this historic place and it was the perfect vibe to get the record started.”

And if you’ve yet to crack the cellophane on the third Anberlin record, we can tell you it feels downright gigantic. Proof lies in the hard charging “Godspeed,” the gorgeous Beatle-esque “Inevitable” and the soaring, melodic “Hello Alone” where the shimmering riffs of Milligan and Strayer, the rhythmic achievements of Rexroat and Young and the skilled vocals of Christian prosper in tandem. 

But what sets Anberlin circa Cities apart from its peers is its willingness to take risks. For the somewhat unorthodox, ten-minute long “Fin,” for instance, the band took its tip from The Rolling Stones circa Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed.

“We just all got in a room with a bunch of percussion instruments,” Chrisitan says. “And everyone just started playing while Joey played guitar and I just sang whatever came to mind. And that’s how the song took shape. I was watching a DVD of the Stones and they had taken the same approach. So I really wanted to try it and I couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out.”

As for the tender “Cable Car,” the song came together when a riff Milligan had slated for an interlude was given life. “When the rest of us heard what Joey had written, we were like, ‘There is no way that we are going to leave that as a simple interlude. It’s an amazing guitar line. It has to be a song,” Stephen says. “And while we didn’t set out to write a ballad, we kind of wanted to integrate different approaches into our repertoire. To make them part of our song book”

Taking Milligan’s music and adding prose can be a complicated process--something Christian equates to putting together a jigsaw puzzle. “As far as the lyrics go, I’m not one who can throw together a song very quickly,” the singer says. “It usually has to come from an emotional experience, whether it’s in my own life or the lives of those around me. I keep a journal on tour and the goal is try to formulate ideas that I can use to build a song. Sometimes they come, sometimes they don’t.”

Drawing lyrical inspiration from artists like Travis and The Smiths, Stephen says he is determined to make Anberlin devotees think. But the fact that they don’t always connect to the deeper meaning in his songs can be frustrating. That notion gave birth to the lyric, “I’m so tired of writing songs, where people listen but never really hear what’s going on,” on the winning anthem “A Whisper and A Clamor.”

“That line isn’t an insult,” he says. “It’s more of a challenge to fans to study the words. I think a lot of times, it’s kind of draining on me that people only have one kind of interpretation. I put a lot of thought into what I do. With our last album, I’d get emails from fans about the song “Symphony of Blasé” and people would say, ‘I just broke up with my girlfriend and that song helped me through it.’ And I’d be like, ‘It wasn’t a break up song at all. It was about alcoholism.’ I mean, these songs aren’t about the basic pop, ‘Ooh girl. I love you.’ They’re much deeper than that.”

Thankfully, the majority of Anberlin’s faithful fans seem to get the message. When the group played to some 20,000 of them at a New Zealand gig recently, it was kind of startling. “That was so unexpected,” says Milligan. “From the backstage area we couldn’t see the crowd. And we’re getting ready, doing the set list. And then we walk out there and it took a few seconds to catch my breath.”

“We walk onstage and hear the crowd roar,” Stephen adds. “I got goosebumps. I don’t drink or do drugs, but I can’t imagine any high that would be better than that.” Equally inspiring is the new disc’s potential to exceed its predecessor from a success standpoint.

“We never said when we set out that we want to be the biggest band,” Christian says humbly. “I don’t really care. I enjoy the experiences I’ve had and the travel. I do feel like we’re ready to get to the next level. We’re very confident about the work that we’ve done.”

As for the band’s mission as Christians, Stephen says matter-of-factly, “It’s not like we have a huge platform. We’re not Coldplay or U2, but I want to touch people’s lives. I’ve got two routes to go. I can either go the sex, drugs, and rock & roll route--which is so temporal--or I can invest in people’s lives. When I look back on my life, I want it to have meaning.”

“I’d like to think we have more in us, and even broader spaces to cover in the future, but this is our proudest moment” Milligan concludes. “I don’t really have any goals for the record. I’d just like to have it find its way into the hands of as many people as possible. Not for glory but because we’re so proud of it.”

Getting back to the different dynamics that give Cities its standout tack, Christian says, “We wanted to allow the songs to breathe. That’s the strength of this band, because we don’t all listen to the same music. And we don’t all think about things from the same perspective. It starts with Joey’s ability to move the guitar around a song. But with almost every one of our songs on this album you can feel the pieces of each person. And it all comes out as Anberlin.”
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