by ALAN SCULLEY & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & L & lt;/span & ast February, for the first time in its young career, AnBerlin went into a CD knowing it had something to live up to. The group's second CD, 2005's Never Take Friendship Personal, had sold nearly 150,000 copies -- an impressive number for a band signed to an indie label.
It was a major step in a fast rise for the group, but AnBerlin's singer, Stephen Christian, said any pressures the band felt about living up to Never Take Friendship Personal were minimal and entirely self-imposed. The band went into its next project with the comfort of having more time for songwriting -- much of Cities, their 2006 album, was written even before touring behind Never Take Friendship was completed -- and working with the same producer, Aaron Sprinkle.
The circumstances were certainly much different when the Orlando-based band recorded its debut CD, the 2003 release Blueprints for the Black Market. Back then, AnBerlin -- which includes Christian, guitarist Joseph Milligan, bassist Deon Rexroat, drummer Nathan Young and guitarist Nathan Strayer -- was just discovering itself as a band.
"The first one, we were absolutely pressed for time," Christian said. "We got signed with only three songs written. Here we are, we're throwing together five or six more songs and figuring out a cover song we can do, just to make 10.
"Especially on 'Blueprints,' we didn't know where our band was going," he said. "We were pretty directionless, from lyric content to songs just being all over the board [stylistically]. It just felt like there was no set pattern."
By the time of Never Take Friendship, AnBerlin at least had begun to focus on a guitar pop sound. Still, Christian said the second CD had a few pedestrian songs that marred an otherwise strong album.
With Cities, Christian feels AnBerlin for the first time has made a CD that is strong from start to finish. His perspective is mostly on target. It isn't, though, a major musical departure from Never Take Friendship Personal, and Christian said that was an objective going in.
"We definitely didn't want to come across as a different band," he said. "I don't like it when bands kind of reinvent themselves because for some reason or another, they don't think their last CD was relevant anymore in musical culture. Well, you gained those fans because of your particular sound."
Still, the songwriting has taken a noticeable step forward. Rocking tracks like "Adelaide," "Reclusion" and "Godspeed" are big, bold and tightly constructed with plenty of hooks and energy. As Cities unfolds, AnBerlin pulls back on the tempo and volume, a move that robs the CD of some of its momentum but broadens the scope of the music. And a couple of the more measured tracks, "Alexithymia" and "Inevitable," hold up well alongside the harder-hitting songs on the CD.
Cities is also a step forward sonically, with a bigger sound that breathes a bit more. But fans who see AnBerlin on tour won't get an overload of Cities songs during the band's set.
"Being a musician, it's so much fun to play the new material because you've obviously been playing the old material for years," Christian said. "But every time that I go to a show, especially when bands have new albums out, they seem to play -- like, the majority of the set is all new stuff. I'm like, 'Listen, your album just came out.' How am I supposed to know all these songs? So what we've done is divided it into seven old songs and six new songs. We have kind of a wide array."
Where the band had felt pressure after Never Take Friendship, it was more likely the band's label, Tooth & amp; Nail Records, that felt pressured after the success of Cities.
Six-figure sales for indie bands get the attention of major labels, and Christian knew before Cities had reached stores that the group was reaching a tipping point for its future.
Sure enough, by early spring, AnBerlin was fielding offers, and Christian went into the process knowing that signing to a major label wouldn't be a guarantee of success.
"You're absolutely taking a gamble to get on a major label," he says. "There are a bunch of bands that signed to major labels -- I'd feel bad by naming them -- they sign to a major label, they put out one record and they're done. And they've worked years on the indie scene and it's just gone. So whatever happened to them? I don't want to be in that [situation]....
"Going on a major label right now is a gamble," he said. "You take some money up front by signing to a major label and you put out one record, and if the record does amazing, lucky you. And if not, you're gone. Say goodbye to your career."
AnBerlin, however, decided to take the risk, signing with Universal Records. What their future holds is unclear.
AnBerlin with Metro Station and Beaf at the Service Station on Tuesday, Nov. 27, at 7 pm. $13; $15 at the door. Visit ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.