Archive for October, 2015

Baby Fat Act 1 cover art

So, me and Read Hard decided to do track-by-track commentary of the Screeching Weasel rock opera Baby Fat, which came out this summer on Recess Records. Here are the results…

Opening Comments

RH: Being a huge Weasel fan I’m very fascinated by the rock opera. The story bases on the same play as Verdi’s Rigoletto; Victor Hugo’s Le Roise s’amuse or “The king amuses himself”. In Baby Fat the Baby Fat character is the modern version of Rigoletto in Rigoletto or Triboulet in Le Roise s’amuse. Of course I’ve read the libretto for Baby Fat Act 1 several times, including the annotated version. It might be difficult to make an analysis of a story that is pretty much straight forward and told in so many different ways, especially when I haven’t seen or read either Rigoletto or Le Roise s’amuse. In Baby Fat the story revolves around a rock musician named Tommy Swank. He resembles who in Le Roise s’amuse is Francis the first and who in Rigoletto is the Duke of Mantua. Baby Fat is his jester or. I can’t say I know much of Opera and the only knowledge I have of it is from Ben Weasel talking about the Rock Opera. The album is only the first act of the Opera (hence “act 1”), and it starts with an instrumental; there are three instrumental tracks in act 1.

Scene 1

1.“Il Tremendo Fantasma (Baby Fat Overture)”

RH- This instrumental is not something one would expect of Screeching weasel, and straight from the bat, they remind the listener that this won’t be a regular Screeching weasel album: this is Baby Fat, the rock opera! The overture sounds very operatic and it mostly builds up to the next song. The heavy bass and the aggressive drumming go very well together. The guitar solo and the keyboard are also interesting. There’s something mysterious about it: even the title is a bit mysterious. There’s no explanation for the title in the annotated libretto, but it seems the title stems from an old opera Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti. It means the tremendous phantom, which is a bit weird in the setting of Baby Fat.

DB- Well, well, well, Screeching Weasel really did make a rock opera, didn’t they? The style is immediate from the offset, as the intensity and slow-build of the drums and heavy bass call to mind the start of a theatre show. It is operatic and atmospheric. This song is effectively the ‘curtain raiser’.

2. “Attention!”

RH- The next tune starts, and also ends, with a pretty cool drum beat. It’s set in Tommy Swank’s place; they are gonna bury Swank’s pet chimp called Mojo. Tommy Swank is the singer in the band Serpentello (Italian for small snake). Baby Fat or Robert is the band’s manager. Baby Fat is the singer of the song; the song is an introduction to Swank’s eulogy for Mojo. Baby Fat is played by Blag Dahlia from the Dwarves. There’s a reference to the Riverdales’ “Fun Tonight” at the end of the song.

DB- So, this is the first song proper then. The guitar feedback, chugging riffs and growly vocals call to mind a real rock opera rather than a pop-punk band doing a rock opera. It is short, spikey and to the point: with Baby Fat (Blag Dhalia) asking if “we are gonna have fun tonight?” in regards to celebrating the life of Swank’s pet Mojo. There are even crowd noises at the end of this to imitate the sounds of a real rock concert. You can’t argue that Weasel hasn’t gone full hog here. This song is kind of pointless in some ways; it simply serves as further introduction to the opera after the overture.

3. “So Long, Mojo

RH- Tommy Swank is played by Ben Weasel, himself. “So Long, Mojo” is Swank’s eulogy to Mojo. The song starts off with music that sounds like it could’ve been playing at a circus. Swank has his face made up like a sad clown. The song is super catchy and sounds like pretty classic Weasel. The chorus is the sing-along of sing-along choruses and is almost like a sea shanty. At first, the song is jolly and cute. In retrospect, after listening to the entire first act, what strikes me the most about the song is that Tommy Swank seems to care more about his chimp than people. His affection towards Mojo seems to be genuine and I think that’s also Weasel’s intention, to introduce Swank as a lovable character and then make him descend into something close to evil. My favourite lines from the song are: “He wasn’t a butler, he wasn’t a valet, nor merely a lovable imp/No-He was a gentleman’s personal gentleman chimp” (A reference to P.G Wodehouse’s Jeeves) and “You lot were not fit to tie his shoes”

DB- So, here comes the pop! This is Ben Weasel’s first crack at lead vocals (as Tommy Swank) on the album and it is great. This song is so catchy. I guess stylistically it is a halfway house between more typical Weasel-core and pure, ‘60s influenced pop. All about a gentleman chimpanzee named Mojo. Extra points for making that into an actual decent song.

4. “Tower of Talent”/5. “All Winter Long”:

RH- These two are so short and they go so well together that they serve as a medley. “Tower of Talent” introduces more of the characters. The song is mostly the entourage praising Tommy Swank. According to Serpentello’s road manager Stompanato (played by Roger from Less Than Jake) they are all fortunate to bask in the glow of Swank’s gigantic tower of talent, which also obviously has a phallic meaning. As a Norwegian, I need to say I find it awesome that Line Dahlman from the Dahlmans sings in this song! “All Winter Long” seems like it’s supposed to be a Serpentello song, Tommy Swank is singing about how great the summer is gonna be, and the rest of the party sings along. It’s a song that definitely leaves you wanting more!

DB-“Tower of Talent” is the first time that Baby Fat exhibits the true extent of its ‘cast’, with all the main characters taking a turn at singing a line, like “absolutely brilliant” and “poetic genius”. It is too short to be a proper song (less than a minute long), but it is clear what the ‘point’ of this song is. “All Winter Long” pretty much carries on from where “Tower of Talent” leaves off, with the whole ensemble singing. I love it when songs flow so naturally into each other. “All Winter Long” is another short one, but it packs a lot in. It’s about how “a great summer” will leave them “enough stories to last us all winter long”. It’s ticking all the right seasonal metaphor boxes, enough to make Banner Pilot blush.

6. “I’ve Got VD”

RH- Every Opera needs a track about STD’s, it’s basically obligatory! And in Baby Fat that’s “(I’ve Got) VD”. It’s sung by the guitar tech, Queeg, who is played by Todd Congelliere from Toys That Kill and F.Y.P. His label, Recess, also put out the album. The song , of course, doesn’t make much sense in the context of the Opera, except maybe to show the power dynamics between Swank and his crew. Queeg seems to be the puppet that Swank controls and pulls the strings of and make him sing and dance. When Swank asks if he has any news, Queeg first tries to brush it off, but gives up and sings his embarrassing news with a smile, while also quietly calling Swank a scumbag when he doesn’t hear it. The song is a funny little Pop Punk song, rhyming “cheerio” and with “venereal”.

DB- “I’ve Got VD” is one of my favourites from the record. It kind of doesn’t really fit in with the rest of Baby Fat, but whatever. It’s spiky, sarcastic and cutting. Todd’s vocals are perfect for this one. How can you not love a song with the lines: “Don’t fall in love/ You’ll only end up having to lop it off”.

7. “Kewpie Doll”

RH- After Queeg finished his song, Tommy Swank notices Line Dahlman’s character Miserella. She is there with her boyfriend, Jerry Japan (played by Andrea Manges). Jerry is the band’s merch-guy. When Swank wants to talk to Miserella, he makes Baby Fat tell Jerry that he is needed to clean up a mess in the merchandise. Now Swank can talk to Miserella without Jerry Japan being there. “Kewpie Doll” is the song he serenades her with and it’s a pretty standard Weasel song, it sounds like it could’ve been on “Carnival of Schadenfreude”. Swank tries to explain in the song how Miserella is being held back in her relationship with Jerry Japan, and that sleeping with Swank would give her freedom, because now she’s just a doll without her own personality.

DB- I guess this is the most straightforward Weasel song on the album. I feel like this could have come straight from Wiggle, albeit better produced.

8. “The Entourage”

RH- Like Rigoletto and Triboulet, Baby Fat is the jester in the crew and he goes into character. In “The Entourage” Baby Fat makes fun of Swank’s entourage. He calls Stompanato a drunk, Queeg a drug-addict and he makes fun of Jerry Japan for being dumped by his teenage girlfriend and comforts him that no one thinks he’s gay, because no one thinks about him at all; because no one gives a shit about Jerry Japan! The song is pretty funny, but it’s not necessarily a great song outside of the Opera.

DB- This is Roger LTJ’s first proper singing part! It is him and Blag trading lines. Baby Fat (Blag) is basically just pissed off. I dunno, I think Weasel is trying a little bit too hard on this song. It’s a rock opera, we get it.

9. “Baby Fat’s Got a Girlfriend”

RH- The entourage isn’t too pleased with Baby Fat’s act and they are plotting a revenge. Stompanato has, apparently, found out that Baby Fat has a girlfriend because he’s seen him embracing a lady! The song expresses Stompanato’s disgust for this happening. Baby Fat has been in a car accident, which has led him to look disfigured and he’s in a wheelchair. Rigoletto and Triboulet were hunchbacks. Victor, what’s up with your weird obsession with hunchbacks? I think this is the appropriate time to digress and say that Mike Hunchback from the Night Birds is playing on this album, so whenever you feel like going surfin’, that’s him! Back to the song! I think Roger does a good job in the song, but I think the song itself is one of the weaker tracks on the record. The chorus could be catchy, but now the “what kind of girl would date a circus freak?” is a really big letdown to me and it just kind of bland, melodically. My favorite part of the song is the “He must’ve cast a voodoo spell on her”, it really takes the song to new heights and there’s just something mystical about it.

DB- Well, welcome back Roger LTJ! It is easy to find this song annoying, as it has kind of a repetitive and childish melody: “baby fat’s got a girlfriend, lalalala”. I find it simultaneously catchy and annoying. This is basically a song mocking that Baby Fat could ever get a girlfriend: “what kind of a girl would date a circus freak?”

10. “God Damn You”

RH- The revenge the entourage is planning is to lead Baby Fat’s girlfriend to Tommy Swank. Till now we have seen the Tommy Swank who loved his chimp, but also the womanizing Swank who shamelessly seduced Jerry Japan’s girlfriend and made Queeg make a fool of himself with his STD song. “God Damn You” is a turning point on the album. Now we also hear of Swank as an alleged rapist, as a concerned father is accusing Swank of raping his daughter. The concerned father is named Zannoni and is played by Chris Barrows of the Pink Lincolns. The song is started off with whispering, a ‘stadium rock’ drum beat and a sweet bass guitar. It’s a great, aggressive rock song and differs from the rest of the album. I think it’s one of the strongest tracks on the record. Zannoni points out the uselessness of the court system in rape cases and how Swank’s minions will continue to follow him even if he is a rapist, and they know it! His tone is very threatening and he yells that Swank will pay! Then Baby Fat steps up as the jester and defender of Mr. Swank again, backed up by Mike Hunchback’s Surf guitar, I think. He calls Zannoni crazy and off his meds and claims, his daughter is blaming Swank for her regrets. Zannoni then says Baby Fat would change his mind about that if he had a daughter. Something that is interesting and ironic in the grand scheme of the album. Zannoni yells “God damn you both to hell” and puts a curse on them. Swank gets angry and terrifyingly screams that he should get out and he is escorted out by security. Baby Fat starts screaming too.

DB- This is a grower. I like this one a lot now, actually. It is Chris from the Pink Lincolns as Zannoni, the aggrieved father, having a pop at Swank. Baby Fat sticks up for Swank and then Zannoni loses his shit, screaming: “God damn you both to hell! God damn you all to hell!”. Great release of energy in that moment.

Scene 2

11. “Satan Leapt”

RH- Scene 2 also starts with an instrumental. The scene is set in Baby Fat’s house. The track is driven by a piano, and there’s also a creepy organ coming in, as well as a soloing guitar. It all sounds very mystic, both the music and the title, which seems like a contrast to “God” in the title of the ending of Scene 1. In the beginning of the scene Baby Fat is outside his house doing a soliloquy that unfortunately is not on the album. I think it could’ve been interesting to hear Blag speak it. The soliloquy is not in the traditional Shakespearian sonnet form, but more like a standard rock song with AABCCB rhyming.

DB- A minute-and-half-ish dramatic piano number. Not much else to add really.

12. “Things Aren’t So Bad After All”

RH- Was the “single” from the album that was posted on Dyingscene. It’s another turning point of the record where we see another Baby Fat, possibly the real Baby Fat. The aggressive and mocking tone of him being the jester is long gone and his singing is more melodic and crooning. The song brings out Baby Fat’s inner demons. We get to know that Baby Fat isn’t as fond of Swank as he claims to be in his job, yet just as hateful of the entourage as he seemed when he was joking. The title and chorus is a pun that brilliantly shows expresses this hateful bitterness. “After all” means “In spite of everything”, but when “of them go” is added, it becomes ambiguous and shows that once Baby Fat is away from Swank and the gang, everything is OK . It first it seemed to me like a pretty standard Punk Rock song, but it grew on me a lot! It’s both depressing and uplifting at the same time

DB- A poppy, upbeat Blag lead song, which acts as Baby Fat’s rallying cry. This one is better in abstract than in reality. I find myself skipping it a lot.

13. “Living Hell”

RH- Is an OK song, but to me always seemed a bit pointless in the context of the record. It’s sung by Paul Collins of the Beat and he does a good job on it as the religious ex-convict Sardonicus. There is a reference in the song to Ben Weasel’s second solo album These Ones Are Bitter, I believe, when he sings “these days are bitter”. The song is just very bleak and to me it’s just a song that is in the middle of “Things Aren’t so Bad After All” and “Thine Eyes of Mercy”, separating the two, which musically is a smart move, as I’m not sure if they would have fit well together.

DB- There is a lot of religious imagery song in this song (and album in general), but I find it interesting that “Living Hell” seems to be about belief in people (and this theme certainly re-appears towards the end of the record). When I say belief, I mean no belief in the people/world/humankind. Some of the lyrics in this song are kind of cringe-y and could have been straight from a shitty Maiden song, but the key line in the song absolutely kicks ass (and complements the music so well): “God knows I’ve tried believing in the world to no avail/ In the end, we’re left with nothing but ourselves: a living hell!”

14. “Thine Eyes of Mercy”

RH- Might be both my favorite song on the album and possibly the greatest song of the year. The song is a classic pop song and Blag really goes into character as another side of Baby Fat and is even more crooning than on “Things Aren’t so Bad After All”: they hardly make’em like that anymore. It’s not only a turning point on the record, musically, but it’s also a turning point in the story. The song is sung to Poveretta, Baby Fat’s daughter. Poveretta is also the girl, which Stompanato has seen Baby Fat with, so it seems she’s his daughter and not his girlfriend. The song is simply explaining how Baby Fat’s rather sad life becomes a little better and he’s almost at ease when he sees Poveretta. The title is a reference to the Catholic hymn Salve Regina, which is a hymn to Mother Mary; a Marian hymn. There’s also another reference to Virgin Mary when Baby Fat sings “More than Apparition”, an apparition is a super-natural appearance of Mother Mary, and Baby Fat thinks Poveretta’s eyes of mercy are more than an appearance by Mother Mary.

DB- Love this one! It’s about Baby Fat being forgiven by his daughter Poveretta (Kat Spazzy), when she turns her ‘eyes of mercy’ towards him. It’s all totally relatable, not necessarily from parent-child relationship, but any kind of relationship. A pretty cutting line: “When you turn thine eyes of mercy towards me/ It cuts down to the bone and I know I’ve gone so wrong and I don’t want to anymore now”.

15. “Creeping in Silence”

RH- When “Thine Eyes of Mercy” ends, there’s a nice little sound that I have no idea what is that goes into “Creeping In Silence”, which is a beautiful duet between Blag and Spazzy’s singer Kat Spazzy, as Poveretta. Poveretta is Baby Fat’s biological daughter, but she grew up with foster parents, and she sings that she loves them as much as they love her, but she just can’t help wanting to live with Baby Fat. My favorite line of the song is “Never read too much into what anybody says/ No one ought to know what’s in somebody else’s head”. Even though it’s a daughter/father duet, it almost sounds like a romantic love duet, without it being overly creepy, even if I’m sure if not aware of the context it could easily be mistaken for a love song between a couple. One of the things that disappoint me reading the lyrics is that they sing “really, truly believe in faith” and not “fate”, this would’ve been a perfect pun, as Baby Fat’s name is actually Robert (Bobby) Fate, and the line would be perfect since Baby Fat sings “Have faith in me this once”(of course this is a “faith” that should’ve been kept) and Poveretta sings “I’ll believe in you this once”. Way to mess up something beautiful, Mr. Weasel.

DB- Best song on the album? I’d say so. I mean, it doesn’t sound like a Screeching Weasel song at all, but it’s great nonetheless. It’s Kat Spazzy’s first song on the record and she really brings the melodies out. I think the lyrics on this song are probably the best on the album. “Never read too much into what anybody says/ No-one ought to know what’s in somebody else’s head”. That’s just brilliant. I like the ambiguity in this song, that the ‘something’ creeping in silence could be positive or negative. I view it mainly positively though: “we’re always right in tune”, reminding me of Tattles Tales’ Hearts in Tune. I think this song could apply to a number of different relationships; I understood it initially as a romantic one, but after reading the lyrics, I guess it is about the father-daughter relationship between Baby Fat and Poveretta. In whatever way, the idea of reaching out to “grab the sun” is sweet and beautiful.

16. “Here to Stay”

RH- Starts off where “Creeping in Silence” left. “Creeping in Silence” ends with Poveretta feeling like she’s reaching out to try to grab the sun, like she’s found Baby Fat. “Here to Stay” starts with the word “Sunlight”, she claims the sunlight will help her and her father. She tries to assure her father that she won’t go away and that she is there to stay. The song sounds to me, musically, like Green day, but her voice makes it sound like something different. I’ve heard comparisons to Evanescence, but I wouldn’t go that far! I really love this song though.

DB- This kind of continues where “Creeping in Silence” left off. Kat Spazzy singing about feelings and shit. I could hear a whole album of songs like this.

17. “Cursed”

RH- What follows is another duet between the father and daughter. It’s not very long, but I’m gonna try to make a, somewhat leftfield interpretation. The song is about Zannoni’s curse, and it haunts Baby Fat. Poveretta senses that there is something seriously wrong with her father. Baby Fat starts the song with singing, “I’m not superstitious”, but he still worries about the curse that Zannoni has put on him. Baby Fat wants Poveretta to stay in when she’s not at school or church, Poveretta is Catholic and wants to become a priest, but Poveretta also wants to have her own life and she is curious about Baby Fat’s life as well, and if she really can trust him. “Creeping in Silence” still echoes: “You don’t know anything about him, and it’s true”. Baby Fat is afraid that he is going to lose her. It’s hard to say if Zannoni really has cursed Baby Fat, or if curses exist in the Baby Fat universe. But it could be interpreted another way as well, that the curse is Baby Fat’s conscience. In “God Damn You” I pointed out the irony of Zannoni singing that if he had a daughter he would not defend Swank. The irony is of course that Baby Fat does have a daughter! My interpretation is that this sentence is bothering Baby Fat more than the actual curse, the awareness that Zannoni’s daughter could’ve been his, if he believes Swank actually is capable of such thing. Poveretta is also really curious about what Baby Fat does when he goes away, and he doesn’t want her to experience how evil the world really is.

DB- A short song where Blag and Kat trade off lines as father and daughter. Blag is seemingly over-protective and cursed and wants his daughter, Poveretta, to stay in when “not at school or church”. Oh dear.

18. “In the Pale Light of the Midnight Sun”

RH- It’s 2 am and Baby Fat gets a call that he has to go to work, not knowing it’s a prank from Queeg, Stompanato and Jerry Japan. After he leaves, Poveretta breaks into one of the best songs on the record, and the first song that really touched me. Before now we’ve only seen Poveretta in relation to her father, but in “In the Pale Light of the Midnight Sun” we can also see her personality, the song shows that she is a melancholic and soul-searching lady. The song has the beautiful line “It’s funny how the universe speaks only when it chooses to and never gives the answers that you want”. There are a lot of biblical allusions in the song, but the title is actually a reference to a National Geographic article on whale fishing in Lofoten in North of Norway called “Search of Viking Whalers”. The song starts like a regular Pop song, but in the middle, it turns quite different and sounds more like a hard-rock song, but it somehow works.

DB- Another Kat song. Probably the second best song on Baby Fat. It has the feeling of a pop-punk song, mixed with a haunting rock song. And that means catchy. Rock opera catchy. When she sings, “these nights are beautiful and terrifying”, don’t tell me your heart doesn’t weep. HIT.

19. “Disharmony”

RH- The first “Disharmony” on the record is an instrumental, and it ends Scene 2. After Poveretta has sung “In the Pale Light of the Midnight Sun” she reads aloud from a book by Henry Suso. Then Jerry Japan, Stompanato and Queeg arrive at her door to tell her that Baby Fat has been an accident and is going in and out of consciousness. She sees the band logo tattooed on Stompanato’s arm and since Baby Fat has the same tattoo, she trusts them and joins them. Musically the songs starts off pretty melodic, and then turns really noisy and disharmonic.

DB- A fairly boring instrumental number. Is this necessary? Baby fat. Also, end of scene 2.

Scene 3

20. “I’m a Lonesome Wolf”

RH- Scene 3 kicks off with Tommy Swank sitting in a leather chair singing a song about how he will go and see Miserella again. Swank seems rather miserable and discontent with his life and has an attitude that is both condescending and sexist and claims Miserella and women in general are just pieces of meat. “Lonesome Wolf” is probably the most different song Screeching Weasel has ever done, and at times it actually gets a bit too weird. The song starts really slow, but catches up in the end when Swank really raises his voice. Swank sings twice in the song that he feels “weary and tired”. In the first verse “stand” is rhymed with “that”, and I think all through the record there’s a pattern of using assonance instead of exact rhyming.

DB- This is arguably the most ‘rock opera’ the album sounds: dramatic piano notes and theatrical singing by Weasel, I guess this is the song which is as far removed from the classic Weasel sound as it gets. The way Weasel sings “I’m in the mood for a bite”, it sounds like he wants to be on Broadway. The lyrics are kind of awesome on this one, though. He’s singing about his youthful indulgences, now well behind him, have caught up with him and he’s basically left with nothing, as a “lonesome wolf”.

21. “Just For Now”

RH- Queeg, Jerry Japan and Stompanato have now brought Poveretta to Tommy Swank. Tommy Swank claims he wants Poveretta to be safe and calls a cab for her. The song is a duet between him and Poveretta, and it starts with him calling the cab and telling her that the car will be there in a little while and that she should calm down, while she answers she will stay, but just for now. Earlier, he is thinking to himself that her curiosity will be the end of her. The song doesn’t have a chorus, just two parts and the second part drags on for a while, sounding like it could’ve been a chorus, similar to the “medley” on Teen Punks in Heat.

DB- This song is fine, I guess? It’s another Weasel song, which is always appreciated, but it is nothing particularly special. Kat Spazzy sings a recurring line at the end: “I’ll stay right here”. That is probably all there is to say?

22. “Poveretta”

RH- Continues where “Just for Now” left off. Swank says he will be at her service faithfully and that the ride is on the way. He has also made her a cup of tea. He is very assuring that everything will be alright, and that Queeg, Jerry Japan and Stompanato are creeps for bringing her here and that their prank was silly and gross. At the end of the track, he tells her not to worry her pretty little head, which is either sort of comforting or really condescending. Musically, the song is very Power Pop-esque and the melody, though somewhat cliché, is pretty good and soothing to the ears. At first it felt really standard, but it’s grown to be a really great tune!

DB- More like it. A proper Weasel-y pop-punk song: fast-paced, melodic and catchy. It makes use of a non-standard song structure, which works pretty well. The song, as you might have guessed, is all about Poveretta, and Swank is basically being a creep and sexist pig towards her, telling her: “don’t worry your pretty little head”. I dunno, it is quite weird to such arrogant, misogynistic lyrics in what is otherwise a straight-forward pop-punk song. Normally, as a pop-punk fan, you are greeted with whiney pinings for a girl that the protagonist will probably never get. Switching it up in this way makes me feel uncomfortable. I like! Bonus point taking away for including the line: “What you need’s a nice hot cup of tea”.

23. “We Never Knew”

RH- Poveretta and Tommy Swank have started talking and she tells him she is Baby Fat’s daughter. Swank tells her that it’s all new to him that he had a daughter and gives her the tea. I first thought “We Never Knew” was a song describing how Poveretta feels about being at Swank place and finally seeing where her father works and the mixed emotions that rattles through her while she’s there, but it seems it’s actually Poveretta talking about her situation with Swank. There’s an almost Gothic sound to it that was also found in “In the Pale Light of the Midnight Sun”. The last line of the song is “And we belong to the angels now”, which is a reference to the words Abraham Lincoln’s secretary Ed Stanton said when Lincoln died. It’s been known to be “Now he belongs to the ages”, but there’s been later discoveries saying he actually said “Now he belongs to the angels”. This has resulted in a debate on what Stanton actually said. They are both really great quotes, but they give entirely different meanings. After the song Poveretta tells Swank that she has been living with her father since February, I’m not sure if it’s actually mentioned what time of the year the story takes place, but “All Winter Long” suggests that it’s early in the summer. Swank tells her that her father used to play in a band called Stalin Christ (This is one awesome band name!) and how the accident happened and that he gave him the job as their manager. The conversation moves on to Poveretta and her thesis, while she is starting to feel kind of dazed. She tells him she’s studying theology.

DB- Welcome back, Kat Spazzy! This is not nearly as good as “Creeping in Silence” or “In the Pale Light of the Midnight Sun”, but it’s still pretty decent. It’s a crunch-y, riff-y rock number, with an anthemic chorus. I like the opening line a lot: “All of the time I was growing up/I always thought about showing up”.

24. “Without Belief”

RH- I chipped in for the funding of “Baby Fat” and got the Mp3/FLAC album and got a guitar pick, a post card and a sticker with what I’m assuming is the Serpentello logo, a rattle snake. I also might get the vinyl for my birthday! Which means I waited a year for this thing and in the meantime I got really into rock operas. Some weeks before the album was released I had a home exam in visual rhetoric, that I, of course, failed. I wrote about the art of memory in rhetoric and in ancient and medieval art. One of the subjects I wrote about was Thomas Aquinas’ idea of memory in Catholic practice and his analysis of Aristotle. After having failed my exam, getting Baby Fat Act 1 was my light in the tunnel and I was really excited to put it on. The 24th song on the album, sometimes, wrongly, referred to as “24 Without Belief” starts after Poveretta has claimed she’s studying to become a theologian. Swank is not too fond of religion and stands for a stereotypical, atheist and somewhat juvenile view, that stretches atheism to something ridiculous, while his own views tries to make Christianity look ridiculous, and calls the Christian God a “petty, jealous tyrant living in the sky”. The song later turns into a duet with Poveretta, where she makes fun of his ignorant atheism and says she is Catholic. Swank then calls Thomas Aquinas a nut and the pope a child molester. I thought Aquinas being mentioned was really funny since it was so shortly after my exam.

Poveretta later asks, “what about love?”, which seems to be a thing that Christians/religious people hold on to in this secularized society, that love is something that couldn’t exist without God; Swank says it’s a silly question and that emotions are a construct of the brain. They both sarcastically says they will agree that the other is right, and two sentences seem to reflect their stands, Poveretta sings “Life is cold and empty without belief” (Hey, the title is in there!) and Swan sings “All I really care about is truth” (I thought he sang “All I really care about is chimps” at first, which also seems to be true!) ¨ The song sounds like it could’ve been on the “Major Label Debut” EP.

I had to re-sit the home exam while writing this article. And this time I wrote about descriptions of appearances of Virgin Mary and basically had to write “Marian apparition” because of “Thine Eyes of Mercy”. Oh well.

DB- I think this may be my favourite song on the album where more than one person is taking lead vocal duties. Here, it is Weasel and Kat trading off lines with each other and it really works. It is basically an argument about religion between a catholic (Poveretta) and an atheist (Swank), which is nothing particularly groundbreaking (and is certainly no “Science of Myth”), but it is kind of cool anyway. The title comes from the Poveretta line in the song: “Life is cold and empty without belief”.

25. “Sleeping Beauty”

RH- After the duet/debate, Swank sarcastically compliments Poveretta and she replies with the great quote: “Your flattery is as subtle as your satire”, then he asks the question “Now where’s that car?” and the car doesn’t seem to show up, most likely, based on what’s happening next, Swank hasn’t called for a car at all. Swank has also put two ambiens/Insomnia drug into her tea, and Poveretta is now asleep. Then Swank undresses Poveretta and rapes her. The suspicions towards Swank has all turned out to be true, which makes the comforting songs like “Poveretta” and “Just for Now” pretty upsetting in retrospect. He starts the song off by saying he is raping her because too many women have accused him of rape and tried to take his money, some logic there, Swank! The vocal harmonies in the song and the melody are simply beautiful and the song is artistically one of the most beautiful moments on the record. And it’s just kind of awkward and disturbing how such a horrific thing can be described so beautifully. Swank continues his comforting tone towards Poveretta, which is even more disturbing considering what he’s doing to her. He says ridiculous stuff like “it really is kind of nice when you get down to it” and that he’ll always be watching her and that she’s gonna have to get used to the thought of him. It seems, that in his mind, that she should actually be into this! Which is pretty scary. The title is of course from the English version of the traditional European fairy-tale about the princess who sleeps for hundred years. In Fat Mike’s musical Home Street Home there’s a song called “Seeping Beauty”, of course.

DB- Possibly the catchiest, traditional Weasel-core song on the album (vying with “Poveretta”), but also its most disturbing. Building on “Poveretta”, Swank takes his arrogance to a whole other level and actually rapes Poveretta after drugging her. What is perhaps most disturbing about the lyrics of “Sleeping Beauty” is the way that he describes the rape: “you’ll dream about me forever”. Swank is basically deluded at this point and believes that Poveretta would be enjoying it. Up there with the creepiest ever lyrics: “Yeah, in a way, I’ll never stop watching you”. I guess this is written simply as part of the narrative, but part of the nerd in me would like to think that “Sleeping Beauty” is a perversion of (and simultaneously a comment upon) pop-punk lyrics and some of the creepiness and misogyny inherent within them, kind of like how Masked Intruder did (but this time in a serious, rather than spoof-y way). Or just forget I ever wrote that.

26. “Disharmony 2”

RH- The second “Disharmony” song is pretty beautiful, and again with Poveretta and Swank harmonizing, ironically. The last three songs on the album seems to describe the same moment; Tommy Swank raping Poveretta. “Sleeping Beauty” is from Swank’s point of view, “Bound to Fall” is from Poveretta’s, and “Disharmony 2” is the somewhat awful and devastating duet between them.

DB- Weasel and Kat join forces and sing together on this one, the second song titled ‘Disharmony’ (infinitely more interesting than the previous one). This one involves a recurring choral chant of “Disharmony” and other rotating self-pitying lines like “What a disaster we have made of things” and “Nothing ends up like you’ve always dreamed”. The lyrics are clearly are a follow-up to what just took place in “Sleeping Beauty”.

27. “Bound to Fall”

RH- There’s a nice little bass line in this song, that Ben Weasel said was inspired by an Elvis movie. Obviously, Poveretta’s experience from the rape is pretty different than Swank’s and this also seems to affect her relationship with God, her faith and the problem of evil, and she keeps asking how we can go on hurting each other in this world? She is also disappointed in her own feelings towards Swank, because she wants revenge and she wants to skin him alive. Both the song and act 1 ends with Poveretta claiming her heart belongs to Jesus and that she is bound to fall and yells out for God to help the world; “God help us all”. In some ways, it echoes “The Science of Myth” in the sense that a rape survivor keeps on going through her faith. The melody is intentionally the same as the first song of the scene: “Lonesome Wolf” and also has the same line: “I feel so weary and tired”. And it makes a strong effect knowing that the perpetrator has uttered the same line as the victim in the beginning of the scene and it’s a very well written scene in that regard, but it’s also a very weird note to end on the act on: it’s strange, but also perfect.

DB- Narrative-wise, this would have made more sense immediately after “Sleeping Beauty”, but whatever. It’s another lead song from Kat, in a mid-tempo and slow-building affair. Poveretta’s yearning for revenge after what Swank did to her: “If he tries his worst and I get to him first/ Oh, I promise you, he’ll end up dead”. The song is less about that though and more about Poveretta despairing about the human race’s ability (including her own) to walk “the path of the righteous”. So, Baby Fat ends with the cheery conclusion that we are all morally compromised and ultimately fucked: “God help us all!”

Verdict

RH: So now that we know how act 1 ends we can only speculate of what act 2 will turn out like?(or possibly just read the Victor Hugo book). How will the violation in the end of act 1 affect Poveretta, Baby Fat or Tommy Swank for that matter? Will we ever get to know more about Queeg and his venereal disease? I guess we’ll wait and see! I’m excited for it at least. As for act 1, probably not intentionally, there seems to be an underlying feminist theme to it. The album could be seen as a critique against the patriarchy. Tommy Swank’s view of women is morally incomprehensible and at his party naked women are serving drugs to the attendees and are serving as footstools and tables for the people and the drugs. Baby Fat, himself, also is willing to defend a rapist just to be overprotective of his daughter, instead of letting her be her own person. Swank’s entourage turning a blind eye to his perpetrations, a court-system that sees a survivor as delusional, Baby Fat reinforcing that idea while also claiming she blamed Swank for her regrets while also scolding his daughter from the world are all factor that leads to Swank’s violation of Poveretta. Poveretta might also be the strongest female character in rock opera history. I think I took this all a bit too far! Another theme of the record is obviously religion and the references to Lincolns secretary, Aquinas, biblical verses and psalms helps create a really Christian vibe of the entire story, without actually preaching the gospel in any way. There are also a couple of Shakespeare references. Overall, I think the record is really good and if someone will remember it at all, I think it will go down as a classic in a few years.

DB: Musically and lyrically, Screeching Weasel have stretched themselves like never before. We have seen them veer away from their standard Weasel pop-punk before at times (see: Emo, Bark Like a Dog), but to create a rock opera is a whole other level. When I first heard that they were going to do a 27-song rock opera called Baby Fat, I was unconvinced. I was certainly intrigued, but I thought it had the potential to completely fail. However, Weasel have (mostly) pulled it off here. There are some songs on Baby Fat, which are out-of-this-world good. My favourites tend to be those sang by Kat Spazzy (particularly “Creeping in Silence” and “In the Pale Light of the Midnight Sun”). Of course, these sound nothing like typical Weasel, but they are great songs nonetheless (and there are a handful of that standard Weasel style anyway). Clearly, lyrically, this is a whole different beast than anything Weasel have done before, creating a 27-song narrative with multiple character POVs. The lyrical and thematic content is hit and miss for me. I like it when they keep the lyrics personal or character-based: they can be humorous (“I’ve Got VD”), touching (“Creeping in Silence”) or a little bit disturbing (“Poveretta”). I’m just not so into it when Weasel get too tangled up in religious imagery. I realise it is a ‘theme’ of the album, but I don’t think they can pull it off too well. It is fine if it is like “Without Belief”, but the lyrical style gets really cringe-y on stuff like “Living Hell”.

Basically, Baby Fat is so far removed from anything Weasel have done in the past, I wouldn’t compare it to them. I would rather it view it as a completely separate project they embarked upon, outside of the wider context of Weasel. Definitely one of the most intriguing punk rock albums in recent memory, that is for sure.

Buy it here: https://recessrecords.bandcamp.com/album/baby-fat-act-1

The first time I heard of Alkaline Trio was when I saw in fucking Kerrang that they were going to put out a new album in 2003. My first thought was that they looked like Blink! I thought Dan looked like Travis, Derek looked like Mark and Matt looked like Tom! And look what’s happened? I remember hearing “Private Eye” shortly after that and they were also on the David Letterman show. I didn’t really start getting into them before Crimson, about when it came out, and it took me two more years to buy From Here to Infirmary. And then I would go on to go through a “Alk3-phase”. The band was formed in 1996 in McHenry, Illinois, sixty miles north of Chicago, it seems. The original members were Matt Skiba, Glenn Porter and Rob Doran. Skiba had formerly played in Jerkwater, the Traitors and Blunt. Porter had played in 88 Fingers Louie. When Doran quit, Dan Andriano, who had played in Tuesday and Brendan Kelly’s ska-punk band Slapstick replaced him in 1997. The band had then recorded their “Sundials” EP and a demo. Goddamnit was their debut album on Asian Man Records. Their sophomore album Maybe I’ll Catch Fire was also released on Asian Man. Their radio success came with From Here to Infirmary that was released on Vagrant. After that the band has continued to release hits after hits, and I unfortunately feel like they start to rip themselves off more and more after each release.

Goddamnit was released on October 13, 1998 on Asian Man. The album cover is three alarm clocks, and all of them are showing the time 6:00, meaning 666, the number of the beast from the 13:15–18 of Book of Revelations. This seems to be the start of Skiba’s infatuation and flirtation with Satanism and the Church of Satan. The band was produced by the band themselves and Matt Allison, who also produced their album from 2010 This Addiction. I would consider this album one of the best debuts ever made.
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1. “Cringe”: I bought this album, like so many others, in Scotland. It was in Edinburgh in 2008 and I bought the 10th anniversary edition with “Redux” as bonus tracks and a DVD about the album called “Original Sin”. I saw the DVD before I heard the album. When I first put on “Cringe” I was stoked and thought it sounded different from their later works, but still really great, and little did I know that the rest of the album would turn out to be even better. This was in the middle of my aforementioned “Alk-3 phase”. The song has the strong line “Even Christ himself would cringe at the sight of your scars”.

2. “Cop”: Every Punk Rock band needs an anti-cop song! And “Cop” is Alkaline Trio’s. The song tells the tale of someone who has been accused of a crime, seemingly innocent, who blames the police officer, something that has turned into an obsession. Skiba sings that after the court date, the imprisonment and the jailbreak, the accused’s obsession with the police officer will be over. Like Screeching Weasel’s “Police Insanity”, “Cop” portrays police officers as people with inferiority complexes who take their own problems out on innocent people or criminals, for that matter. Both are seen in a pseudo-psychoanalytical way, that these complexes traces back to the officers’ childhoods and that bullying both in childhood and as adult have caused these complexes that result in abuse of power.

3. “San Francisco”: Skiba said in the DVD that came with the re-issue that “San Francisco” was about visiting a friend in California and he flew from Chicago to San Francisco. The song goes into a bit more emotional depth than the former songs. I’m pretty sure the song describes the fear of flying, even if it could go deeper, like the fear and anxiety related to the trip itself. There are plenty of images and metaphors that helps us see the fear that is being felt in the song. The airline is being referred to as “Hellbound”, the seat is compared to an electric chair and Skiba’s heart is in the bay, most likely referring to the San Francisco bay. The beer price also goes up by the other hour, something that anguishes Skiba as he is using alcohol to cope with the anxiety in the song. There’s also an underlying love story: it seems that a lover is being left behind in Chicago, and the biggest fear of the song is “if I don’t return to you”. The Chicago/San Francisco connection is repeated in “Mercy Me” on Crimson.

4. “Nose over Tail”: Is a straight up love song. The first line of the song is the brilliant “Crack my head open on your kitchen floor, to prove to you that I’ve got brains”, smart move that! The infatuation of the protagonist is described by using similes and metaphors such as the girl being a plane-crash that never hits the ground and that she’s a sound of sirens to a house on fire and she’s saving him. He also seems to fake a seizure to get CPR from here, which is kind of weird. I’m guessing “Nose over tail” is just another way of saying “Head over heels”.

5. “As You Were”: Another love song, sort of, this time with the encouraging line: “You’re better off getting away while you still can”. Skiba continues with the similes, like “Put down like a teenager’s first drink” and “ Put down like a prostitute in court/Like my sanity, like my thoughts of you“, in fact most of the lines in the song are similes. There’s a sense of guilt and schadenfreude in the song, the protagonist’s better half is praying for the “you” person to fall, and feeds on her misfortunes. It’s interesting to imagine who the “you” person is and who the better half is. There’s a chance alcohol is his better half. Skiba has said the song is when he was drinking heavily and about the how he felt when he was sober.

6. “Enjoy Your Day”: The first acoustic song on the album and the first Dan song “Enjoy Your Day” is one of the most hated songs I can think of and I have no idea why. I always found the song to sound really honest and it’s a fine song. I don’t think it’s the best song on the album, but I always liked it a lot. The “I hope he bought you roses” is cringe-worthy and bitter, and that to me is what makes it great in an almost uncomfortable way.

7. “Clavicle”: In 2011 the band released an acoustic album with re-recorded acoustic tracks and a couple of new songs and a Violent Femmes cover, the album was called Damnesia. The re-recording of “Clavicle” was made into a music video promoting the album. The re-recording might even be better than the original one and I think the original might be my favorite on the album. The song is a classic infatuation song. The song describes six months where the protagonist dreads talking to the girl he is in love with. He makes a somewhat creepy reference to cannibalism describing the first time he sees her: “I saw what looked like really good food, then I saw you and so did you”. In the chorus, he serenades his desire to wake up next to her and kiss the curve of her clavicle, her collarbone. I used to think it was “curb” which I liked better. In the second verse he actually talks to her and gets her number and vice versa and he is tormented by waiting for her to call him.

8. “My Little Needle”: On the title track on the album This Addiction Skiba sings about love as an addiction and uses drugs as a metaphor for love. “My Little Needle” seems like pretty much the same idea. Dan said on the DVD that he thought that Matt is way more clever and insightful for the song to be about heroin. Most likely the opening lines of the song is from the person the protagonist sings about, saying that they’ll get him high and sing him a lullaby. The second verse is sung from the point of view of the protagonist and he poetically describes how this love has got him to get drunk and vomit every night. There’s an overall description of the protagonist’s life that makes him out to be a bum: that he has become that way because of love rather than drugs. He trades his bike for a shopping cart and begs for change. I’m sure this could all be seen metaphorically. The song is interesting as it bases on a pun. Matt sings “The stack has been burned away”, this could refer to a stack of drugs or to a haystack. The needle can then both be the needle in the syringe or the needle in the haystack and referring to the idiom “finding the needle in the haystack”, and in this case the protagonist has found the one, as the stack has burned away. He also claimed that between the moon and him lunacy is setting in. This could also be seen as a pun as the word “lunacy” stems from the Latin word for moon: “luna”, and the word lunacy means “moon-struck”. Musically, the song sounds great and the melody is really sweet and the harmonies from Dan really make the song.

9. “Southern Rock”: It could also be argued that “Southern Rock” is about drugs, and it makes a lot of sense. To me it seems like the song is about the fear of death and a memento mori-esque awareness that we will all die. This is also the song where Satanism really comes into play. Skiba sings that heaven is falling and that fallen angels have flown away. Fallen angels is not a term used in the bible, but the idea stems from there. In the context of the song I feel like he just means souls that will go to hell, rather than actual fallen angels, and he is aware that it will be him some day. It’s a horrifically relatable as we are all aware of our mortality, some even say it’s the only thing we are completely certain of. The first verse starts with a surprised realization that he is still alive because his heart beats, the second he is more frightened that it actually stopped beating and that “playing this game” caused him to almost die. The song is maybe the slowest on the album, maybe even including the acoustic tracks. The genre is still not “Southern Rock”, but the title here is also ambiguous, because “South” here both refers to the southern states of the US and to Hell.

10. “Message from Kathleen”: While I always loved “Enjoy Your Day” when it was hated I really never got into the Andriano track people seem to love until maybe two years ago, and now it actually is one of my favorites on the album. It’s just so different from Matt’s songs and the intensity of Dan’s vocals are still has present as on “Enjoy Your Day” if not even more. It’s also got one of my favorite lines on the album: “Then I’ll come faster than I ever thought that I could run/ Because I need you more than I ever thought that I could need someone, yeah.” The song seems to be about someone waiting for a message from a woman who is in a relationship with another dude. He has a dream that her man will leave her and she will go with him.

11. “Trouble Breathing”: Is according to Matt a song about his friend committing suicide. There’s something really dark about the song and it’s definitely the darkest song on the album, possibly in their entire catalog. The line “Don’t forget to let your life rot you inside out” is almost painful to listen to, it just sounds so bitter, sad and angry! He also sings that his friend will always be in pain and nothing will be OK. The song shows how two angsty and misplaced young friends can be on completely different levels in their minds. The “I”, well, Matt, has a very jokey attitude about death and life, and is assuming that his friend feels the same, and he is not able to take his troubles seriously. When his friend says it’s a wonderful night to die, he asks how he can tell and the answer turns out to be more depressing than he expected (“Look how god damn ugly the stars are”), the same happens in the second verse, his friend claims the daylight burns him and the sunlight is enough to kill him and he replies “Maybe you’re a vampire” and gets an even more depressing answer: “It’s quite possible, I feel truly dead inside”. In a lot of ways it reminds me of “Fuck You Aurora” where the protagonist tries to find someone to blame for someone’s death, because he doesn’t want to blame himself. I’m not sure if the “I” in “Trouble Breathing” really blames himself, but there’s a sense of bitterness towards his friend that could stem from also feeling a bit guilty for not taking his depression seriously.

12. “Sorry About That”: The album ends on another acoustic track, I’ve often heard it referred to as the song that succeeded at what “Enjoy Your Day” failed at. The song is beautiful and sore and has a way better melody than “Enjoy Your Day”. The lyrics also really fit the style of the song. It’s about two drunk people that spend the night together. The narrator feels guilty because he feels like he has taken advantage of her heart being broken and he knows that they had lost each other and whatever they had is over. Here the title is pretty much perfect. In the chorus he wonders what would’ve happened if he hadn’t ignored her broken heart; maybe they would’ve been together.

Bonus track: “Sundials”: There are four bonus tracks on the re-issue. All of them are from the 1996 demo tape. On the re-issue it’s referred to as “Redux”. Most of the songs sound pretty rough, including an early version of “Nose over Tail. “Sundials” is the best of the bunch and has some really great lines like “You were like a toilet bowl at the end of a rainbow” and “we got laid like concrete/We fought like soldiers, but we died like flies” and “What good are sundials once the sun is gone? What are you good for?”

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Is Alkaline Trio really Pop Punk? One might ask, and there’s no definite answer to that and Pop Punk has become a pretty fleeting term lately, so whatever. There’s more heartbreak and unrequited love on this album than most albums. Skiba’s style has often been compared to Paul Westerberg of the Replacements. And next Pop Punk Pick will derail even more from Pop Punk at it is, yes, Tim by the Replacements.

Bird cover art

What I like about Bangers is their ability to spread their wings musically, and on that note, Bird works perfectly as the title of their third full-length. This could be in terms of the album itself, but it could also describe their transition as a band since their early 7”s. Since those early 7”s, Bangers have become more creative and moved further away from the shouty-pop-punk of their formative years. They are as much alt-rock as punk-rock these days and influences from both sides are evident on Bird.

In a similar way to Apologies, I Have None, Bangers have branched out from their punk origins and embraced bigger ideas, but this is not to the detriment of the passion behind the music. Don’t worry, it is definitely still Bangers playing the music, but they are just experimenting a little bit more. It is natural growth after the fantastic Crazy Fucking Dreams. The guitars are crunchier and the vocals are less nasal. In terms of the album itself, there is decent variety. You still have the gruff, passionate pop-punk of yesteryear, which are just begging to be screamed by 20 scruffy kids at about 2am in a basement (see: “Half Human”; “Stressful Festival”). However, building on Crazy Fucking Dreams, there are other songs which have more crunch, dirt and alt-rock angst, like the tales of “old Cornish sailors” heard in “Mannequin”. Then there are the more considered, slowed-down numbers: the obvious example to this is the raw, honest (and probably album highlight) “I Don’t Feel Like I’ll Ever Be Clean Again”. It is a fine balance, but Bangers manage to make the transitions between the styles seem natural and organic. Bird has a good amount of variety throughout, but there is one constant and that is Bangers being Bangers. That is what I admire about the band. They are always just themselves and that is more than enough.

Check it out: http://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/bird

DB