I was talking to a friend about how I needed to get back into the music scene. We discovered we had similar tastes so I asked him:
“Has anything good happened to ska since Streetlight Manifesto?”
“Has anything good happened to punk since Against Me! ?”
See, Against Me! was the darling of the punk world back in 2k. Punk had become pop punk, thrown on MTV for everyone and commercialism and the real punk fans missed the harsh distortion and incomprehensible lyrics of real punk, not this Blink-182/Good Charlotte bulllll-shit. then word got out about this little Florida group called Against Me!. They were good, man, they were heavy and fast and energetic and intensely political but had a great sense of humor about it (See “Baby I’m an Anarchist”, a song about an impossible love between an anarchist and a “spineless liberal – we marched together through the 8 hour day but when it came time to throw bricks through the Starbucks windows you left me all alone”). And their songs weren’t just about national politics, but about the politics of being a band that had to make a living but fuck if they were going to compromise themselves to sell few more t-shirts. Everyone latched on to them and said they were the next big thing and they would bring punk back and their first album was huge.
Their second album was controversial because it really wasn’t traditional punk. It was like… punk-country. A lot of people hated it but it’s one of my favorite albums of all time. It has a beautiful structure and coherence, I don’t know if it’s intentional or not but it’s totally amazing.
The first track is the regular ol’ “party like a punk star” track, all about get up and dance we came to tear this place apart song. Real accessible, real fun, basically the “I’m the illest rapper” of the punk world. That is okay, the song has some great drums and kind of wistful lyrics. Good start.
The next track ups the intensity a little bit – the content doesn’t even matter, the song fucking drives. Great harmonies, furious bassline, and leads in great to the next song which keeps the intensity but brings down the tempo a bit. It ends with a sustained chord – “No, I dunno what to say”.
And the next song starts up almost instantly – “Not one more word tonight”. What? Lyrical and thematic leadin between songs on a punk rock album?! Holy shit. And the song is slow and beautiful and at the end one guy whispers “that sounded pretty good to me. sound pretty good to you?” and the next song starts up and all the beauty and slowness of that song is converted into another heavy hitting guitar riff that kicks you in the gut and gets you started up again as the singer gets hoarse and bellows a little bit. What a great contrast! And the song builds up and builds up and finally it climaxes and releases its hold. The next song starts up quietly, and then a solid guitar riff hits you – it releases, there’s a vocal verse, then they kick it up a notch as it were. Screaming and shouting harmonies and “oi”s pepper the background. Then the intense guitar riff releases from minor key into major and for a second the listener is freed of all this intensity and the song ends and goes into “A Brief Yet Triumphant Intermission” – a punk rock instrumental. Which keeps that same major feel in an album that hasn’t had this kind of triumphance since the first track. We relax.
Then it ends and you hear someone mutter “Just gettin’ warm” and this snappy undistorted guitar riff starts up and the singer starts accusing us of fucking up everything with our good intentions. There is no distortion here. There is no shouting. There is a little bit of hoarseness, but there is nothing here to tell us this is punk rock. This is why people fucking hated this album and I completely love it. There’s a totally new sound here and it builds up this huge tension – where did my punk go? What is the acoustic stuff? It ends after a minute and change – short! – very suddenly. The next track picks up the same rhythm, but distorted. It pauses and the bass kicks in and the drums kick in and all of a sudden the lyrics start machinegunning at us and holy crap did someone just die in the lyrics? And this is very quickly the most intense fucking song ever sung. Anarchy in the UK or killing cops or your fucked up shows or skateboarding suddenly seem tame.
The next song is calm. The singer is calm and the riff is slow, but there is still that tension. And suddenly the riff powerchords out at us and the singer is still completely calm, but his tone is accusatory and we know that even though the drums aren’t being pounded here this song is just as intense as the last one was in a completely different way. And even though he’s shouting now that “everything’s gonna be alright”, this is just completely arresting and now the drums are being pounded and it’s completely intense. And finally it ends
And we get a light-hearted acoustic love song whose chorus is “girl, I’m sorry but I’m leaving, it wasn’t the other men because there were other women”. what a perfect god damn ending.
And then Against Me!’s next album sucked terribly (it was on MTV and it was all about “MY FRIENDS ARE STUPID FOR LIKING THE WAR GUYS”) and the one after that was barely acceptable. Punk is dead.