A Tour Guide to Anberlin’s “Cities”

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Foreword

I completed this project in early 2010, while I was a senior at Kettering Fairmont High School. It was published on March 30, 2010. Before long, the blog post had upwards of 40 comments, thanking me for sharing what I’d found, complimenting both the way that I presented Stephen Christian’s words and the way that I supplemented his interviews with my own insight, telling me that my work had helped them gain a new and deeper appreciation for Cities as an album, Christian as a songwriter, and Anberlin as a band. In April 2010, my blog averaged 204 views per day. On one day in particular that month – what WordPress labels as my blog’s “best day” – 2,158 people viewed the blog, thanks to promotion by Christian himself on Twitter as well as music news communities such as AbsolutePunk.net.

Basically, as the title says, what follows is a tour guide to Anberlin’s third album, Cities. I’ve scoured all corners of the internet for interviews with Anberlin’s singer and lyricist, Stephen Christian, and in the end, I emerged with his explanations and insights into every single song on Cities, as well as some general insight into the album as a whole. I’ve added in some thoughts of my own as well, because Cities is one of my favorite albums of all time, and all of these songs hold great meaning for me. The finished product is pretty lengthy, as you can see, but I believe that it’s all worth reading for fans of the band and the album, and if your experience reading it is anything like my experience writing it, the meaning these songs hold with you will double after discovering what inspired them. Each quote or important piece of information has been assigned a footnote number, and the links to the sources I used are at the end of the post. I’ve split this up into multiple pages, so don’t forget to keep reading once you reach the end of a page.

I hope the tour proves enjoyable for you!

You can click on each bolded song title to read the song’s lyrics. They’re not official lyrics from the band, but they’re the best I could find online.

Cities

Cities was recorded in July and August 2006 in Seattle, WA. Most of the recording was done at Compound Recordings, except for the drums, which were recorded at London Bridge Studio. Anberlin returned to producer Aaron Sprinkle for the third consecutive time – but not before some serious deliberation. In the end, the band and Sprinkle say they took care to change things up whenever possible (including turning to a different engineer and mixer), to make this album sound different than Blueprints for the Black Market and Never Take Friendship Personal, which were also produced by Sprinkle[1]. At the time of recording, Anberlin consisted of Stephen Christian (vocals, lyrics), Joey Milligan (guitar), Nate Young (drums), Deon Rexroat (bass), and Nathan Strayer (guitar). The album’s title was initially rumored to be Reclusion.[2]

On December 26, 2006, the band released the Godspeed EP via iTunes, giving fans their first taste of the recording sessions  It featured the album’s lead single “Godspeed” and “The Haunting,” a b-side which Stephen had originally intended for his solo project Anchor & Braille until the rest of the band convinced him to record it as an Anberlin song[3]. “The Haunting” would later appear on the band’s b-sides compilation, Lost Songs.

Tooth & Nail Records, the band’s home since their debut, released Cities on February 20, 2007. The album was considered by the band to be the third and final installment in a trilogy, with Blueprints tackling the theme of man versus nature, Friendship taking on man versus man, and Cities representing the struggle of man versus self.[4]

STEPHEN SAYS: “I once heard someone say you can either get inspiration from influential bands, or you can become the influential band. I think by now we had to do what was natural for us and not listen to the musical climate around us. Anberlin is now completely Anberlin. I am not going to say that we were not influenced, because I think musicians are a byproduct of everything that we have heard, read, studied, encountered, and written, but I feel like we drew from ourselves on this record. I know, for myself, three months before we recorded, I stopped listening to anything I felt could influence me. I picked up a lot of blues and jazz, from Simone to Stitt, but my favorite during the “cleansing phase” was Serge Gainsbourg, a French jazz artist.” [5]

“I think the original title was Songs for Darker Places, and then it was Songs for Darker Cities, and then Darker Cities, and then Dark Cities, and that sounded too much like Batman, so we were just like, okay, Cities it is.” [6]

“The third record takes on the ominous and daunting task of introspection. The city represents individuality and the pursuit of life, and this is the most autobiographical album of my career. The city represents one’s own self; to the fearless, it looks conquerable, but to the timid and fearful, it looks unobtainable.” [7]

“I think Cities was more of a guinea pig experiment to see how invested the fans were into Anberlin. It just seemed like before people were just waiting for the hook. That’s why, in “A Whisper & A Clamor,” there’s a line about being so tired of writing songs that people hear but no one listens to, no one hears what’s really being said. I felt like this was the time to go inside myself and find out what’s really going on behind the scenes. I felt that whoever you are, no matter what race or age or sex, I think that we all go through the very basic same things in life, whether that’s love, hate, family, beliefs or whatever it might be. I just wanted to dive into those topics – what could we all relate to? Whether it’s depression in “Hello Alone,” or drug use in “Godspeed,” or battling it out with God in “(*Fin),” I feel that they are topics that everyone can relate to and really feel a part of. It was an experiment because I honestly did not know if the fans were going to like it. This was my heart-on-sleeve, devil-and-demons-in-my-head kind of record. I’m just glad that I lived to not regret that.” [8]

“An analogy I can make is with Weezer: here is Rivers Cuomo coming out with their second record, Pinkerton, that was all very heart on sleeve-ish as well, and the critics just ate him up – ‘this sucks, this is the worst thing, no one wants to hear this crap.’ And he vowed that he would never write a record like that again. Now people say that it’s the best record that Weezer ever did, but he lived to regret the record and hated it ever since because he felt that people didn’t understand it. That was a little scary for me, reading those things, I went back and tried to read all the interviews he did after the album came out and people just tore him up. I’m glad that people not only accepted Cities but appreciated it. The whole goal of it was to delve into the psyche and feed the shadows and at the end of the day, find out that there is hope out there. There is a better life out there for you, if you pick yourself up you can make it in this world, I don’t care who you are. That’s the underlying theme of the album.” [8]

“Every city has a different culture, a different feel, whether it’s Seattle or Tokyo, every city is going to feel different at some point, and of course there are lessons you can learn from the city, or something that someone can teach you, and I guess that’s what I wanted with each and every song. Each and every song I wanted to be different in some way, whether it’s a different story or different musically, and then at the end of the day I wanted it to teach a lesson, whether about failure and success, about not giving up, or about depression – no matter what the subject was, I wanted people to walk away feeling like this was a little bit more than just music.” [6]