Read Hard’s Classic Pop Punk Picks #25: Alkaline Trio- Goddamnit

Posted: October 11, 2015 in Read Hard's Classic Pop Punk Picks

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.

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