Archive for the ‘The Years of Our Lives’ Category

René’s Picks

1995 was the year I got to see a lot of Northern Europe’s capitals. I went to Oslo for the very first time and what I remember the most is the delicious waffles and buying a Fred Flintstone backpack. I still had a girlfriend and I finally understood many things in life. I was told “you are going to pre-school” and I had no idea I had to go to school. I thought school was for stupid people, so I was a bit disappointed. I was honestly shocked. For some reason, I started making new friends at school and I remember my criterion for someone to be my friend was if they liked the movie Mio, My son. Anyways, adjusting to the idea that I was going to start school was frightening to me. Before starting school, I went on my first road trip with my parents. We were going to Moomin Land in Finland and we stepped by Sweden on the way. I have some great memories from that trip. One of the first stops on the trip was in the Swedish town of Karlstad and it was midsummer, which is a very notable occasion in Sweden and almost all the restaurants and stores were closed, and all the swedes went to the beach to barbecue or something. Me and my parents starving, and we found a kebab place and I ate a döner kebab for the first time in my life. It was great! Next stop was the island Åland and I remember losing one of my baby teeth. I think it was my second. I also got to see Stockholm and Helsinki, the capitals of Sweden and Finland.

The music we listened to on the car stereo was mostly my Dad’s CD’s that he had been copied onto cassettes. This was about the first time I learned what a CD was, and the concept perplexed me. I had no idea how that thing would have music come out of it. Another thing was that it started at track 1 every time you put the cd in, unlike cassettes that you could pause and it’d end up at the same place on another deck. I remember when I saw the movie Pocahontas, I wanted the soundtrack afterwards and they didn’t sell it on cassette, so I had to get the cd. So, this was my first cd, it didn’t make it onto my picks though! 1995 was a really good year for punk music and all my favorite albums from this year have all been analyzed thoroughly in my pop punk picks column. But I think these picks are great as well:

Green day-Insomniac

GD INS

I turned six years old this year. As a present from my class, I got a collage of pictures my classmates had drawn of cats. I also think we had cake at school. The same day (October 10), overseas, Green Day followed their major label debut Dookie with Insomniac. I was of course oblivious to this as I sat and ate cake and looked at weird kid-drawings of cats. The album, like Dookie, was released on Reprise Records. The backing of a major label and the millions of dollars raked in from the Dookie success gave us an album which to me is a perfectly produced album. I don’t think another punk album sounds this good. It’s both well-sounding and gritty at the same time. The poppy and classic rock feeling of Dookie is all gone on Insomniac. The album is a lot crunchier, angstier and darker. From the opening drums on “Armitage Shanks”, to the last chorus of “Walking Contradiction”, Tre Cool delivers his best performance on the kit. The songs about burning out, smoking pot and unrequited love are replaced with songs about meth (“Geek Stink Breath”), rich spoiled kids who wish for their parents’s deaths (“Brat”), giving up on society’s norms (“No Pride”) and hostile breakups (“Stuart and the Ave”), the latter being one of Green Day¨s greatest tunes. Mike Dirnt’s bass lines are fantastic on the entire album, but maybe especially on “Stuart…”. Billie Joe’s vocals are fantastic too and you can feel the spite in his voice, which is interesting as he just got married when the album came out. The song describes a breakup that took places years prior to the album. Amanda, a woman which almost appears more in Billie Joe’s songs than his actual wife, broke his heart and it turned into so many great tunes.

I remember buying the album in late 2003, the same day as I asked the local guitar shop if I could work there during work training week. I remember a few months after buying the album, I was in Liverpool for the first time. I walked around the station trying to find the bathroom. When I got there and did my thing, I washed my hands in the Armitage Shanks sink and thought “this I where they got the song from”. It got even weirder from there. I saw the number 86 on the wall and there was a sign that said “Westbound” and I felt like I was living in the Insomniac album and wondered if this is where Billie Joe got the idea. This was also the album that has the, in my opinion, worst GD song “Brain Stew”, its only silver lining is being followed by “Jaded”. The fun music videos of Dookie were also replaced with darker music videos for the album. The dentist office close-up of mouth video of “Geek Stink Breath” is just plain disturbing. The exception is of course “Walking Contradiction”, which is hilarious and possibly the funniest music video of all time. It’s also the most lighthearted song on the album, starting a series of songs where Billie Joe tries to be Elvis Costello. The album cover is just as cartoonish, but it’s also a lot more disturbing and less iconic than Dookie. This was the year that punk rock really turned mainstream, 1994 was when mainstream turned punk.

The Queers- Move Back Home

queers moveback

I remember getting the Asian Man reissue of this album in Stockholm, Sweden in October 2007 (the second time I was there), something I might get into more in 2007. What I didn’t know back then was that the vocals were very different in that reissue than in the 1995 version. In fact, the great line “I was so excited, but she was undecided” is gone from “I Didn’t Get Invited to the Prom”. Songs like “She¨s a Cretin” and “High School Psychopath Pt.2” sounded less snotty. In many ways, I got to admit that I still prefer the 2007 version in some ways, although that might be sacrilege. Another thing I loved in the 2007 version was getting to read Larry Livermore’s liner notes.

The first song that caught me (when listening to the album) was “From Your Boy”, which Larry also complimented a lot in his liner notes. I think, the album is what it is, a kind of silly pop punk album with a somewhat older gentleman singing songs about being a teenager, and often the second verse being “same as the first” in true Ramones fashion, but “From Your Boy” really stands out in the middle of the album. A midtempo tune that builds up, starting only with Joe Queer on vocals and guitar and then bass and drums slowly get added as the song builds up and let’s not forget the great solo, that is sort of in the same style as the Riverdale’s “Back to You”. The title is, of course, a response to The Muffs’ “From Your Girl”. Larry produced the album and also offered one of his band the Potatomen’s songs “That Girl” to Joe and the gang to cover on the album. I’d say the original is definitely better, but I think they do a great job covering it. The original appeared on the album Now, that was also from 95 and could easily also have been a pick for this year. The song is written from the point of view of a man who strays from the traditional objectifying and possessive male voices in many love songs. The girl in the song isn’t seen as some object the guy wants to own and he seems to see women as equal and states it, without it sounding forced like an “I’m a feminist look at me” song. Other guys are warning him about this girl, but he understands she wants to be her own person and has no plans to make her settle down. The second verse starts “I’m not saying that she’s my girl, she’s her own woman that’s one thing sure”, something that ties it to the next song on the album; “Peppermint Girl” where Joe sings “She’s not my girl, but I’m a fool”. “Peppermint Girl”, however, seems like the polar opposite. It’s obsessive, possessive and sometimes even kinda creepy “She wants out, but I want in”, but I definitely think it’s one of Joe’s better lyrics, both with its obsessive unrequited love, but also the peppermint metaphor. The girl is hot and cool, and sweet and neat just like peppermint. It’s a really poppy song with lots of noise elements in it, it was one of the first Queers songs I heard and fell in love with and it’s still one of my favorite Queers tunes.

There’s something Jesus and Mary Chain about it, and I would say there’s something even more Jesus and Mary Chain-esque about “Cut It Dude”, one of many anti hippie songs that dates the album on there (we’re told “It’s 95” quite few times on the album). It was also the first album where Joe, B-Face and Hugh all got songwriting credit for most of the songs. This was also the first album they did a Beach Boys cover, and “Hawaii” is probably their best one. “Everything’s Going My Way” has also always been a favorite of mine. And there’s of course a parody song title in “If You Only Had a Brain” (parodying “If I Only Had a Brain” from The Wizard of Oz), and it’s probably their funniest parody title. I honestly think the album holds up well. The Lookout version was first released May 10.

CUB- Come out, Come Out

cubcomeout

I wrote about the twee pop/cuddlecore masterpiece that is Betti Cola in the 1993 article. Come out, Come out followed it up perfectly. Lisa Marr delivered some of her greatest tunes. The production was a lot more slick than its predecessor, but the songs were nearly if not as great. The song is stacked with poppier tracks such as “Ticket to Spain” and “Your Bed”, snottier songs like “Voracious” and “Life of Crime” and ballads like “So Far Apart”. The album definitely is a bit more professional than Betti Cola, I honestly prefer BC, but they are close. There are far less covers on this album. They do a lovely version of the Go-Go’s “Vacation” and a possibly even better cover of Yoko Ono’s (and John Lennon’s) “I’m Your Angel”, from their Double Fantasy, which to me is a surprisingly good album. Other bands have also covered songs from the album. They Might Be Giants did a cover of the sugariest tune on the album “New York City”. A song about falling in love in NYC and being far away from the person you had your big city fling with. Another song about being far away from someone “So Far Apart” was also performed by Neko Case of New Pornographers fame at a CUB show, she drummed for the band for a while. Singing “So Far Apart” was her first vocal performance on stage ever, there are, as I can find, no recordings of her singing the song though. My favorite song on the album is “Tomorrow Go Away” and it might be my favorite CUB song; a song about a relationship gone sour. Two people that clearly hate each other that stay together, wishing another day won’t come and the song just gives a gloomy look at a failing relationship of metaphors like cards laid for solitaire, and passive aggressive lunches with parents and sex on the floor as they have no room for a bed. Every line in the verses rhyme with “bed”. They have given up on love and hope and their lives pass by. Beautiful melody, brilliant lyrics. To connect this album to the Queers one, CUB also did a split with the Potatomen this year. Come out, Come out was released January 15 1995 on Mint Records.

Dave’s Picks

Jawbreaker- Dear You

jawbreaker dear u

Of course, it is different listening to Dear You over a decade and a half after the fact, as I did when I discovered the album in around 2010. Having not lived through the experience of Jawbreaker transitioning from underground punk darlings to a slicker and emo-tinged indie-punk band and signing to a major label (Geffen) for what would be their last release. For many fans, Jawbreaker had, yep, sold out, and effectively done a deal with the devil. The backlash after such a well-loved record in 24 Hour Revenge Therapy was significant and it sounds like it invoked perhaps even more antithapy and anger among punks than Dookie did the previous year. I mean, it effectively ended the band, with Jawbreaker breaking up only a year or so after the release. Bandmates fought and, famously, on the US tour following the release of Dear You, many fans sat, arms folded, turned away from the stage when the band played tunes from the album.

But the idea of ‘selling out’ means something different in 2019; the ‘90s was a different landscape and the punk scene was more purist, as Blake had satirically drawn out on 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. So, I didn’t have to deal with these conflicts when I listened to Dear You;  I could just listen to it for its own sake and appreciate the music for what it is. The music is undeniably different: it’s mellower, more introspective and cleaner. Regarding the latter, it is the slicker production values of Dear You that the fans had the most issues with, with the band recording with Rob Cavallo who had only the previous year produced Dookie with Green Day. I can imagine the advert now: would you like your punk band to be labelled a sellout? On a mission to alienate your fanbase? Then I, Rob Cavallo, am your man!

While cleaner sounding and more closely embedded with the alternative rock sound of the era, Dear You still sounds like classic Jawbreaker in many ways. For me, it retains Jawbreaker’s original appeal and builds upon the sound that they had developed so well on 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. It is still basically pop-punk in many ways, albeit a gloomier and more emo-tinged version of it. The vocals are also distinctly cleaner on Dear You, following Blake’s vocal surgery.

More than anything though, the record represented a stark shift in tone, coming across as a darker and more downbeat sound. The soft-loud dynamics on tracks like Accident Prone, Jet Black or Million are bound up with a stark self-deprecation and glum attitude that makes it sound like Blake has just given up. This record is essentially a huge bummer and, for that reason, I consider it to be my go-to winter rotation album. I remember listening to Jet Black on the radio as a teenager, years before I would properly delve into the band and being almost shocked by the sheer bleakness and hopelessness of the song that was way beyond anything I had previously heard: Your floor is my ceiling/Lights out, you can’t come in. Tonally, Dear You is not far off the Smiths, albeit backed by a straightforward punk ethic and grit. You do have to be in the mood to really appreciate Dear You; if not, the self-pitying and wallowing can be overwhelming.

Lyrically, Blake was arguably at his peak on Dear You, evidencing brilliant, cutting wordplay throughout. Lines like I dot my T’s and cross my I’s (Oyster) or If you hear the dreams I’ve had, my dear/They would give you nightmares for a week (Fireman) immediately come to mind. The lyrics on the album retain Blake’s trademark bitterness, though this is directed less towards the punk scene and more towards failed romances: check out Fireman or I Love You So Much It’s Killing Us Both for example. Tracks like Save Your Generation, Jet Black, Oyster or Sluttering (4th) are up there with the best punk tracks of the ‘90s and provided the bedrock for a bunch of emo and punk bands through to today.

Green Day- Insomniac

GD INS

Coming back off the back of Dookie, one of the ‘90s most iconic pop-punk records, Green Day’s follow-up release was also going to be a challenging and interesting one. As the years pass, the more I appreciate Insomniac. When I first heard the record (at the age of about 17), I didn’t really get it, I guess, but it really is a great album that represented a distinct shift in sound for Green Day. Insomniac is full of aggression, angst and bile; it feels uncompromising in many senses. Tre’s drumming is incredible, perfectly bound up with the aggressive sounds on the album, and Billie-Joe’s vocals are iconic here: sneering and full of bile. The angst imbued in Billie-Joe’s vocals feels genuine and organic, in marked contrast to anything Green Day write these days.

The pop-punk on Insomniac is darker, crunchier and angrier, dropping many of the ‘60s pop influences from their earlier material. It is nevertheless chock-a-block full of melodic goodness, as can be heard on classic tracks such as ’86 and Westbound Sign, both full of heart and stop-start hooks. In tone, Insomniac comes off as more teenage than Dookie in some ways, with tracks about break-ups, rejecting society and killing one’s parents. The sound may have been more ‘mature’ (whatever that means), but the content of the songs wasn’t. Green Day touched on disillusionment, drug abuse and mental health issues on Insomniac. All of these, of course, were present on Dookie, but this time, things felt more serious and darker in tone. For me, Insomniac is a great example (alongside Dear You, actually) of how bands can do the whole ‘self-analytical angst’ thing, without it feeling pretentious or overly-forced.

The album sounds amazing, too: crunchy, yet clean; clearly, Green Day made the most of an expensive recording studio, while avoiding the trappings of over-production. Some of the songs work better (Stuart and the Ave, Westbound Sign, No Pride) than others (Tight Wad Hill, Brain Stew), but, on the whole, Insomniac feels like as coherent and well-rounded an album as Green Day have done. Despite sound great songs being released after this, this was Green Day’s last properly great album and the last you will be hearing about them in this series!

Rancid- And out come the wolves…

rancid wolves

It makes you realise how many great punk albums were being released in the early to mid ‘90s that And out come the Wolves… almost didn’t make my best of 1995 list despite my conviction that it embodies some of the best parts of the punk genre. Rancid’s third full-length was their ‘breakthrough’, I guess, despite never receiving the same recognition as Green Day or The Offspring. I mean, how could they with looking and singing like that? The mainstream semi-acceptance of Rancid represented the punk image (leather jackets, studs) being transported back to the public consciousness, albeit for a brief moment. In many ways, Wolves is an homage to ‘70s British punk (specifically The Clash) and ‘80s ska, but I feel that does it a huge disservice; it feels vibrant and contemporary and as much a product of the ‘90s East Bay punk scene as of those.

Wolves is more slowed-down and melodic than its predecessor Let’s Go, or at least the hooks are given more room to breathe. It also feels less like a barrage of punk growl, and more like a proper, full-bodied and thought-out record. I still often think of this album as being a bit too long or having too many tracks at 19, but I have to correct myself: there isn’t really any filler on Wolves. I love Olympia, WA, in particular: it is one of the first Rancid tracks I heard and it probably remains my favourite of theirs. Its anthemic sound is iconic and never devolves into Pennywise territory; it embodies a wonderful explosion of melodies and storytelling that feels unmatched when you are listening to it. Elsewhere, I always come back to tracks like Roots Radicals, Ruby Soho, Journey to the End of Easy Bay or Avenues and Alleyways; I am even partial to Junkie Man. The dual hit of Tim and Lars vocals works so well; it is a wonderful combination that feels peerless in this kind of punk rock.

While incorporating a diverse range of sounds and influences, from oi! to ska to ‘70s punk, Wolves has a coherent sense of itself and a consistent attitude, which is mainly ‘fuck you’ to be fair. I mean, the ‘wolves’ analogy from the album title is clear: the record has a sense of ‘us against the world’. The lyrical storytelling on the whole is outstanding on Wolves and is really what distinguishes Rancid from the pack. I read an article that compared Rancid’s lyrical stylings to that of hip-hop artists and I can see that; the songwriting on Wolves (and Rancid more generally, of course) is all about putting the listener in a specific place and time, so that you know what it is like to play a ‘lonely pinball machine in New York’, long for Olympia or to take the ’60 bus out of downtown campbell’ despite never having been there. It is an album full of characters that fill the protagonist’s life, from Ben Zanotto on the bus, to little Sammy, the punk rocker, to Jackyl, a struggling addict. In contrast to the self-pity of their peers (including the other two picks in this article!), there is a sense of pride, of breaking through the tough times, and simply storytelling imbued in Rancid’s work which feels refreshing. There are moments of semi-silliness, but that is almost part of its charm, as was the case with those early punk records in the ‘70s. I sometimes forget how great this record is; don’t fall into this trap ‘cos it’s a GODDAMN CLASSIC.

Dave also enjoyed:

The Queers- Move Back Home

Riverdales- S/T

The Muffs- Blonder and Blonder

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Rene’s Picks

1994 was not only my year, but it was also the year American punk rock reached the mainstream. I remember a lot from this year. I feel like kid-René peaked this year. I was still totally into the Moomin trolls. There was a football world cup this year in the U.S and all I remember that the logo with the dog was on the coke bottles. Norway also hosted the Olympics for the second time. Again I only remember the logo. I don’t think I even knew what sports were. I did have a girlfriend at the time and was pretty stoked on that. Again, me and my parents went to Mallorca for sunshine in our dreary, rainy Norwegian lives. My fondest memory from the trip was going to a supermercado and buying a toy that was a surfer (thinking back I think it might have been a jetskier, but I thought it was a surfer) and a box of Cadbury’s Roses. At this time I had decided that I wanted to become a drummer and started drumming on the Cadbury’s Roses box after I ate the chocolate in it. I still have the box, all smashed up. I was, however, not very interested in music at all outside of that. And Green Day, The Offspring and Rancid were not in my radar at all. I didn’t pick any of the most famous punk records from the year, Smash by the Offspring, Dookie by Green Day and Punk in Drublic by NOFX, but I probably would have picked Punk in Drublic if I hadn’t written about it in the Pop Punk Picks column. The picks I’ve chosen from this year are Self-titled (The Blue Album) by Weezer, Let’s Go by Rancid.
Weezer-The Blue Album

weezer blue album

It’s something incredible to think about how great an album can be. From start to finish, Weezer’s Blue album is perfect, to me. Even the songs I like the least like “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and “Say It Ain’t So” are classics. The album starts with the folky fingerpicking of “My Name Is Jonas” and goes into one of the greatest power pop verses ever. The album ends with the beautiful “Only in Dreams”, with its weird intro and long-as-fuck outro. In between, we find the Neil Young-esque harmonica driven “In the Garage” and “The World Has Changed and Left Me Here”. “In the Garage” also has my favorite guitar solo of all time. The entire record seems like an emotional journey inside Rivers Cuomo’s mind, a preview to what we’d expect on Pinkerton. Many fans of both Weezer and rock music prefer Pinkerton, but I definitely prefer Blue. If I try to think of a perfect album, it’s probably the closest I think of. I remember at 14 seeing the Happy Days themed video of “Buddy Holly” without knowing who either Buddy Holly, Mary Tyler Moore or Fonzie were. Like “Hush” by Wax (mentioned in 1992), it was directed by Spike Jonze and it’s among his most famous music videos. A song that a lot of people seem to dislike is “Holiday”, but it’s actually one of my favorite songs on the album, but they all are basically.  Even the songs that didn’t make it to the album “Mykel & Carli”, “Suzanne” and “Jamie” are just as good as most of the songs on the actual album. Weezer tried to follow it up with a Green album in 2001, a Red album in 2008, a White album in 2016 and a Black album is coming up this year. None of these have been even close to touching Blue, we’ll see about the new one though.

Blink(-182)-Cheshire Cat

blink cheshire cat

It seems like the news in Ohio is saying that Blink-182 are being discussed as inductees to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame (https://www.cleveland.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2018/06/is_blink-182_rock_roll_hall_of.html). A big question is when they are eligible to be inducted. Their debut album Cheshire Cat was officially released in early 1995. Meaning they wouldn’t be eligible before 2020. The reason they might be eligible anyway is that it was recorded as early as 1994 and advanced copies were out in 1994. This was the time that the band was only called Blink. They had to change their name becomes of that Irish techno band, or alternative rock band, which they actually played. So, despite being released in 1995 on Grilled Cheese and Cargo Records, and re-released by Universal in 1998, the copyright said 1994 because that was when it was recorded and meant to be released, it’s usually regarded a 1994 album, which is why I take the liberty to include it here.

Since this column is called “The Years of Our Lives”, I can’t save too much up for the 2002 column, since I could probably write a book about that year and me discovering new Blink records. So I’ll share this memory here: I remember ordering the live album The Mark, Tom and Travis Show from the local chain record store, when I came back the next week when they said they’d have it, they said it hadn’t arrived. They had tons of other Blink records though, so I figured, why not buy another one? So I bought Cheshire Cat instead. The store never got in MTTS, and I could probably step by every Saturday and buy a new record, I called their bluff early and didn’t fall for the trick though. The purchase of CC was one I don’t regret, however. I loved it instantly. I remembered their performance on MTV Europe Music Award and I just thought they sounded awful and I find something quite charming about that. I think glossiness of music and every song sounding perfect was something that bored me with music so listening to these guys mess up their songs big time was great to me. On Cheshire Cat, I got the same feeling: that this wasn’t a mass produced rock album, this was the real shit. The fast drums and the somewhat low-fi production made me go wild. I also really loved the more slow-paced songs like “Cacophony” and I think it showed that the band had a talent for ballads really early on. I still think it’s one of their finest works. And not really cacophonous at all, like one might say about the following track “T.V”.

Another song that really struck me early on was “Romeo and Rebecca”. I was really impressed by the intro and Tom’s kind of terrible singing made it seem even more sincere to me. I guess I’ve always seen it as the perfect anti-love song. Referencing Shakespeare and creating a dissonance between his most famous play Romeo and Juliet and replacing the girl in the tragic love affair with another girl’s name. Maybe I’ve been overthinking it. Of course, other songs on the album are of course the singles “M+M’s” and “Wasting Time” and the live staple about loneliness “Carousel”. I also have a soft spot for “Does My Breath Smell?”. The joke tracks at the end are also great, except “Just About Done” (I don‘t think I’ll ever like that one). “Ben Wah Balls”, is a tale about family reunions (as most Blink fans know, their idea of family reunions are kinda weird), incest and sex toys. It goes from cheery, funny to sad and downright disturbing.

Rancid-Let’s Go

rancid lets go
Not to be super punk or anything, but Let’s Go is the ultimate Rancid album. Not only does it have that punk edge that we love, but it’s also super melodic. The songs are catchy as hell and shows quite a musicianship without being too wanky. Let’s Go was released on Epitaph June 21, 1994. Unlike later records, we don’t get many songs with lead vocals sung by Lars Frederiksen on Let’s Go, but “St. Mary” is sung primarily by Lars and it’s one of the best songs on the album. That being said, his back-up vocals are fantastic on most of the album. The song “St. Mary” is one of the darker songs on the album, it’s, I think, about a woman revenging the death of her murdered husband. One of my favorites is definitely “Side Kick”, a song about being Wolverine’s side kick and fighting crime as a vigilante and shooting cops in the head. I think “Radio” is the most well-known song from the album, co-written with Billie Joe from Green Day, and about the power of music. I think this is the album with the best Matt Freeman songs. Songs like “Gunshot”, “Black and Blue”, “Motorcycle Ride” and, of course, “Tenderloin” are catchy, but seem a lot more “punk” than Tim’s songs. That being said, the verses and bridge to “Gunshot” and the chorus of “Black and Blue” would be the perfect punk song together. The album starts with “Nihilism” and ends with “7 Years Down”, both dealing with substance abuse problems. Also, for some reason I sing the song “You Gave It Away” after the chorus to “Last Christmas” by Wham. I’ve always wanted to make a mash up of those two songs. A mash up of “Burn, “The Roof Is on Fire” by Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three and “Fire Water Burn” by the Bloodhound Gang (and a lot of other songs) as they all contain the line “We don’t need no water let the motherfucker burn”. The album peaked at #97 on the Billboard top 200. It also has the sort of Billy Bragg sounding track “Harry Bridges” about the American union leader with the same name.

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Dave’s Picks

Weezer- Blue Album

weezer blue album

When I look back at ‘90s alternative rock, Weezer’s Blue Album is one of the few things that really holds up and possibly even gets better with age. The strange thing is that I look at the Blue Album as such a classic, teen album, with the angst-y awkwardness just imbued in the record, as if to soundtrack a thousand teenage failings. At the same time, though, the album has only got stronger as I have got older. Although I always enjoyed it, I felt Weezer as a whole were a bit cheesy in my ‘only punk will do’ teen years. Now, though, I basically agree with Rene that it is a perfect record. The nadir of ‘90s alt-rock? Probably. There certainly isn’t any filler in sight on the Blue Album.

It such a fun record, but one that has soul, depth and meaning that are all too often lacking on Weezer’s more vapid, recent efforts. How can you not want to dance around to “Buddy Holly” or “Surf Wax America”? Or get a warm, tingling feeling when you hear the opening chords to “My Name is a Jonas”? Or cringe when you hear the lyrics to “No One Else”? Weezer’s energy and charm feels effortless, too. I think another issue with their later stuff is that they tried way too hard to be ‘quirky’ or ‘nerdy’, but at this stage of their career, it was pretty natural.

I think one of the best things about the Blue Album is that Weezer managed to bridge the gap between the harmonies of pop-punk/power-pop and the angst of alt.rock/grunge. Lead singer Rivers Cuomo had got swept up in the ‘90s alt-rock craze, but had clearly been brought up on pop music. With those super big hooks and self-aware lyrics, they tapped into a form of indie rock that wasn’t pretentious or self-indulgent. Not that there isn’t self-reflection on this thing of course: “No One Else” and “Say It Ain’t So” will attest to that. Indeed, the stark autobiographical details on the latter paved the way somewhat for Pinkerton.

“Say It Ain’t So” is definitely up there as one of my favourites from the album. It’s very Pixies-esque in its quiet-loud dynamics. A classic slow-burner with a loud, crunchy and cathartic chorus that is probably the most standard ‘alt-rock’ song on the record. “Surf Wax America” is a whole silly ball of fun. I think it’s the first song from the record I heard. It is essentially a pop-punk track that packs considerable oomph and has its tongue firmly in its cheek. The lines “You take your car to work, I’ll take my board” are so memorable, simply driving home a message of individualism- ‘yeah, I’m different, so what, fuck you’. There is a dichotomy on the Blue Album that is neatly encapsulated by these two: the bouncy confidence of “Surf Wax America” next to the angst and vulnerability of “Say It Ain’t So”.

What else? “My Name is Jonas” is probably one of the best album openers of all time, a quirky Beach Boys meets Pixies sing-a-long. I love Rivers ‘yeah!’ towards the end of the song and the neat guitar solo that follows. “In the Garage” is just about perfect in showcasing indie rock angst in all of its pomp. Meanwhile, when Weezer toned it down with tracks like “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here”, the results were just as good, with Rivers’ vulnerabilities left bare.

Weezer would never, ever come close to the heights reached on the Blue Album, with not an ounce of filler or fat in sight. Pinkerton? Good, but lost some of the hooks, charm and ‘fun’ that made the Blue Album such a classic. You take your Pinkerton to work; I’ll take my Blue Album.

Jawbreaker- 24 Hour Revenge Therapy

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I am not going to talk about Jawbreaker’s best record. I will save that for the 1995 discussion (that’s right, Dear You, motherfuckers), but their third record 24 Hour Revenge Therapy is a classic pop-punk record of the ‘90s and evidences the quintessential Jawbreaker sound: gruff, raspy vocals and punchy, (relatively) lo-fi and hook-filled pop-punk goodness. Bivouac was an altogether different beast to 24 Hour and Unfun, an experimental record that shifted the Jawbreaker sound towards a noisier and more chaotic avenue. It turns out that Bivouac is the only Jawbreaker full-length that is not going to feature in these Years of Our Lives articles. I was never into it, really, and, for me, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy got things back on track, expanding on and enhancing the stuff on Unfun. Recorded with Steve Albini, this was Jawbreaker’s ‘breakthrough’ record, riding the crest of alt-rock’s rise to the mainstream.

Tracks like “Boxacar”, “Do you still hate me?” and “Condition Oakland” demonstrate Jawbreaker’s strengths: a heart-on-sleeve brand of punk that is sincere and romantic in the classic sense of the word. Blake Schwarzenbach’s emotive and Kerouac-esque songwriting (although I would hesitate to label them an ‘emo’ band) is a tour-de-force and rarely matched in punk. Jawbreaker’s raspy pop-punk sonics and romanticism laid the foundations for a ton of bands that emerged in the punk scene in the ‘00s, from Banner Pilot to the Credentials.

The ‘punk poetry’ on Unfun reached a new level on 24 Hour, amid tales of moving from place to place, heartbreak and drinking on porches. I mean, they were the original ‘fest’ band. Blake’s songwriting style is clearly influenced by Kerouac’s sentimentality, notably on “Do You Still Hate Me?”, one of the best slower pop-punk songs of all time (and has been brilliantly covered by Upset) with a series of questions filling up the chorus: “Are you out there?/ Do you hear me?/ Can I call you?/ Do you still hate me?” There is a reading from Kerouac on one of the tracks and Blake even self-mockingly references his Kerouacian influence on the record (“You don’t know what I’m all about/ Like killing cops and reading Kerouac”).

Elsewhere, Jawbreaker’s most memorable tracks on the record drifted towards ‘scene critique’, getting all meta and poking fun at the uptight and insular underground punk scene that they had emerged from. In the midst of Green Day moving to a major (see below!), the punk scene seemed obsessed with who was or wasn’t ‘selling out’ and laying down judgements based on a set of strict ideals. Blake laid into these on “Boxcar” and “Indictment”. On the latter, he sang of writing ‘dumb songs’ and ‘singalongs’, after which “all our friends will clap and sing/our enemies will laugh and be pointing”. It was tongue-in-cheek, but also a prediction of what was to come just the following year with the release of Dear You, when the punk scene turned its back on what was one of its most beloved bands at the time.

The anthemic “Boxcar”, meanwhile set out Blake’s stall, hitting back at the righteousness of the punk scene: “You’re not punk, and I’m telling everyone / Save your breath, I never was one.” On 24 Hour, Blake displayed a confidence in his band’s ability to do whatever the fuck they wanted, no matter the scene cred (“if you think we changed our tune, I hope we did”), but the fallout of Dear You would ultimately tear the band apart. In all honesty, though, while Dear You was more glossily produced and more angst-y, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy was already supplying the sing-a-long pop-punk goodness (see “Boxcar” for one thing), albeit rawer and raspier than what Green Day were offering.

Green Day- Dookie

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Another classic ‘teen’ album of the era to fit alongside The Blue Album. Dookie is, of course, very different in tone and substance to that one; it perfectly captures that sense of disaffection and boredom that all teens feel at some point. The opening lines of the album set the tone for what is to come: “I declare I don’t care no more/ I’m burning up and out and growing bored/ In my smoked out boring room” (as with “My Name is Jonas”, “Burnout” is an absolutely perfect opening track). It is pop-punk with a shrug. I prefer Kerplunk’s idealism and romanticism, but Dookie still catches Green Day in that era when they could almost do no wrong.

Tracks like “Basket Case”, “Burnout” and “Coming Clean” were sharp, bouncy, hook-filled pop-punkers that lodged themselves in your brain for hours after. For all its surface level slackerdom, these engaged with deeper issues, too: questioning one’s sexuality at seventeen and living with anxiety. “Longview” is clearly a fan favourite, with its memorable baseline and tales of boredom-induced masturbation that suggests a kind of mental prison that Billie Joe had built for himself.

Nevertheless, these tracks evidence a teenage, self-mocking engagement with these issues: “do you have the time to listen to me whine?” That is, of course, why Dookie (and the stuff that preceded it) retains its charm. Everyone can relate to some extent with Billie Joe’s tales of boredom, discovering one’s identity and disaffection. As Jawbreaker did the following year, Green Day faced struggles with their Gilman St. fanbase after having signed with a major label. Green Day faced the same call of ‘sellouts’, but grew and grew in the face of adversity, in contrast with Jawbreaker. Also, as with Jawbreaker, it was on the following record that Green Day would move away from their straightforward pop-punk sound towards a more mature, indie sound that involved more serious, ‘grown-up’ discussions of mental health and addictions. In many ways, Dookie marked the beginning of the end of what we knew as Green Day, with Billie Joe shifting away from lovelorn, teenage tales towards a multitude of other beasts (mid-90s alt-rock angst, ‘mid-00s ‘political’ punk and whatever the fuck they are now).

Other 1994 albums I enjoy:

NOFX- Punk in Drublic/ Screeching Weasel- How to Make Enemies and Irritate People/ Sunny Day Real Estate- Diary

 

 

Rene’s Picks

I don’t have much memory of 1993. I remember going abroad for the first time. I went to Mallorca on charter holiday with my parents. I remember it being super-hot and I drank lots of Fanta. Both the soda and the fruit juices. Holy shit do I miss the Fanta fruit juices. In the world, this was the year when Bill Clinton became the 42nd president of the United States and Nelson Mandela and F.W de Klerk were given the Nobel Peace Prize. I think this is definitely an overrated year in punk rock and I struggled to find the picks for this year. But I went with Cub’s Betti-Cola, The Muff’s Self-titled and Screeching Weasel’s Anthem for a New Tomorrow.

Cub- Betti-Cola

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Betti-Cola was released on October 1, 1993 on Mint Records. I think this is one of my favorite albums ever. Canadian twee pop mixed with pop punk and indie rock. Lisa Marr, known from various Queers songs (“I Can’t Get Over You”/ “Brian Wilson”/ “The Sun Always Shines Around You”/ “Overdue” and many more) plays bass and sings on the album. There are plenty of great covers on the album where I prefer the Cub version. As much as I like Beat Happening’s “Cast a Shadow”, nothing beats Cub’s version on this album. Their cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Tell Me Now” is also fantastic, but the best songs are Marr’s own compositions. “My Assassin” is a song about how death’s always there after us reminding us to live our lives before it’s too late, “They Don’t” is a song about how we want things to last, but they usually don’t, and “Motel 6” is a song about a young couple escaping to a Motel 6 and lying to their parents about it. Neko Case, famous from her solo career and the New Pornographers. I think Neko Case also covered a Cub song early in her career. According to the credible source Wikipedia: “Cub recorded Betti-Cola primarily with microphones and a Digital Audio Tape machine. The album was recorded in various locations including Olympia, Washington and CBC Television.”. The album cover was made by Archie cartoonist Dan DeCarlo. On the re-release there are also some bonus gems, like “Chico” and the cover of Tommy Roe’s sorta creepy song “Sweet Pea”. And a really short cover of “Wipeout”. Definitely an album every music fan should listen to and appreciate.

The Muffs-The Muffs

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The Muff’s self-titled album was released May 11, 1993 on Reprise Records. It was produced by Rob Cavallo, David Katznelson and the band themselves. It includes one of my all-time favorite songs, “Baby Go ‘Round”. There’s just something about that song that gets to me. I’m not even sure what it’s about. I don’t know if it’s about someone being cheated on, jealousy or pregnancy. It could be all of them for all I know. “Every Single Thing” reminds me of an exam I had, when I felt like every single thing was wrong, ironically it was the only exam I passed that semester. The last song on the album “All for Nothing” is a beautiful ballad and a perfect closer to the album, but there’s a bonus track that’s just lots of yelling. There’s also a Angry Samoans cover on there, “Stupid Jerk”. The only song I don’t like is “I Need You”. “From Your Girl” was the song that inspired The Queers’ “From Your Boy” and it starts with a somewhat middle east inspired intro and turns into a 60s-esque pop song telling the listener to not walk away from their girl.

Screeching Weasel-Anthem for a New Tomorrow

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Released two days before my fourth birthday. On October 8, 1993 Anthem for a New Tomorrow is Screeching Weasel’s fifth studio album and third on Lookout. Something of a Wire-inspired concept album. I learned from John Jughead’s video blog that Ben Weasel did a lot of the writing of the album on piano. This might explain all the keyboard on the album. I also think this is the first album where we don’t only hear a bratty and snotty Ben Weasel, but he also tries out new singing styles and it’s where he perfects his almost cartoonish signature voice that he basically never left after this album (with a few exceptions like the Riverdales). But he also tries to sing more robotic in the creepily science fiction anthem “I, Robot” and in somewhat theatrical in “I Don’t Wanna Be Friends” and “Trance” (the only song co-written with Vapid). The paranoid liner notes of the album are entertaining to read. There’s a lot of worry and anxiety for the future in that text when it comes to cellphones, TV and the loss of personal identity and religion. But there is also a lot of hope. As the last song on the album suggests, we can create a new tomorrow without Jesus and drugs and the government or television controlling our lives and live fulfilling lives outside of those and find something real and honest.

Outside of that there are a lot of songs about heartbreak and guilt in relationships: “Leather Jacket”, “Every Night”, “I’m Gonna Strangle You” (supposedly written from a female point of view) and “Inside Out”. There are also songs about alienation like “Falling Apart” and “Panic”, but there are also wistful love songs like “Totally” and “Thrift Store Girl”. Something that holds the album together, at least early on are recurring words. In the self-accepting Brady Bunch tribute “Peter Brady”, Weasel claims “there’s a robot inside of you”. “I, Robot” follows the robot theme and Mr. Weasel or the character of the song is now a robot. Consumerism and television have dehumanized our hero and he sings “I’m not human”. On the following track “Every Night” we get the opening “I’m not feeling human anymore” where the dehumanization appears in another context. The character feels guilty and heartbroken and is not feeling human anymore because of a break up and obsessions are driving them insane. The intro sample “Sometimes people make use of false guilts and so they find an excuse for closing their eyes to their very real guilts” is perfect. An interesting theme of the album is what is real and what we just perceive as real. Like other people, sometimes we think we know someone, but we don’t. In the penultimate song “Claire Monet” the ‘I person’ realises that he didn’t know “Claire Monet” at all. The way I see the song, Claire has given up her name and taken her husband’s. The “I” person of the song laments the tragic loss, not only of a “lovely name”, but also of his perception of another person that “didn’t need a man” or that wouldn’t get kids and get married. The conclusion is somewhat chilling “She couldn’t go on being Claire Monet, who can?”, because no one can live up to someone else’s perception of them.

Dave’s Picks

Screeching Weasel- Anthem for a new Tomorrow

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I can still recall the excitement of hearing Anthem for a New Tomorrow for the first time when I was 16. It felt like such an adrenaline rush, a step into the pop-punk unknown, even more exciting than when I had first heard My Brain Hurts. I can’t imagine what it must have been like hearing Anthem in 1993. Incredible record. As I already stated in the 1991 reflections, I think My Brain Hurts is just about their best record, but Anthem is not far behind at all and I can totally see this being someone’s favourite Weasel album. For the first time, Screeching Weasel developed a conceptual record that was greater than the sum of its parts. I don’t want to say that this is a ‘proper’ album, as if to de-value anything that isn’t a concept album, because that’s just bullshit, but, on the other hand, the idea of Anthem is pulled off super, super well.

Anthem is a great ensemble recording of Weasel, Vapid, Jughead and Panic at their best. It sounds quite far removed from any of their previous records in many ways: in terms of the much cleaner recording, the more expansive musical set-ups and the high-level lyrics. Anthem clearly marked the start of a new Weasel era and that is largely evident in the records that follow. While it is a ‘bigger’ record, Anthem nevertheless retains Weasel’s core energy, spirit and penchant for hooks. On the album, Screeching Weasel produced some of the outstanding works of their career: “Claire Monet”, “Every Night”, “Totally”, to name but a few. More classic sounding ‘90s pop-punk stuff (“Leather Jacket”, “Totally”) sits alongside more experimental and ambitious tracks: the memorable pop-punk instrumental “Talk to me Summer” (maybe my favourite ever instrumental; I at least can’t think of a better one off the top of my head), sub-30 second angry, blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em punk rock blitzes such as “Rubber Room” and “Panic”, the use of a vocoder on “I, Robot” and, of course, the closing title track.

So, returning to the whole ‘concept album’ part of this: it’s not really a concept album in fairness, more a collection of songs that are thematically glued together. There is all sorts going on on Anthem, but what sticks out to me the most is a consistent questioning of what is real and challenging fakeness: from the viewpoint of questionable mental state and paranoia, as well as peeling back to layers of fake and calculated ‘niceness’ on the surface of the American dream. There are feelings of alienation and loneliness evoked from Ben on this record, amidst technological change, religious fervour and suburban glean. I guess this is best demonstrated on the triple hit of “Peter Brady”, “I, Robot” and “Every Night”.

I know it’s somewhat controversial but I genuinely think that “I, Robot” is one of Weasel’s best songs: it’s innovative, impassioned and sticks the knife in where it hurts, suggesting that we, in the modern tv age, are nothing more than robots ‘stuck inside a circle’. This was 25 years ago, but I feel like this song is probably more relevant than ever in light of the proliferation of social media and echo chambers and the like.

I love the chorus on “Peter Brady”: “There’s something ugly inside of you/ There’s a big empty hole inside of you/ There’s something creepy crawling on your brain/ There’s something in you/ It’s red white and blue inside of you”. It really gets to the heart of the album, suggesting that we all have a Peter Brady inside of us; that we are ultimately doomed to live within this fake, suburban bubble, within the cogs of the machine as it were. Even Claire Monet who appeared different was ultimately sucked in and ended up “playing house and raising kids”.

While much of the lyrics do appear downbeat and rather negative, there is hope on Anthem for a new Tomorrow. How could there not be with that album title? It is there in patches, but the hope only really emerges as an actual entity on the title track and album closer which acts as a manifesto of sorts for an alienated and directionless youth. It has a clear and purposeful rallying call that challenges everything that has been laid out on the rest of the record: “We don’t believe in God or Jesus Ghrist anymore/ We don’t need college just to validate our lives anymore/ We don’t need 12 steps to show us how weak we’ve become anymore/ We don’t need to buy into a system that offers empty promises anymore”. It is probably my favourite album closer of all time, in the sense that it so beautifully and satisfyingly emerges from what precedes it. I hesitate to use this word, but what a Goddamn masterpiece.

Propagandhi- How to Clean Everything

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One of the very first releases on Fat Wreck Chords in 1993, How to Clean Everything, Propagandhi’s first full-length came out at a time when Lagwagon, No Use for a Name and Strung Out were also emerging. In some ways, Propagandhi fit broadly into the melodic, fast-paced ‘skate-punk’ that typified Fat Wreck but, in other ways, they were quite distinct in that cohort of bands and offered something superior. On How to Clean Everything, Propagandhi showcased an in-your-face, uncompromised and snotty punk rock sound underpinned by anarchist politics. It is a fast-paced and unrelenting record that has some typical targets in its sights (nationalism, the effects of capitalism) as well as some less typical targets (third-wave ska).

Before they adopted a more technical, metal-tinged sound, Propagandhi simply revelled in playing solid, melodic punk rock with Chris Hannah’s impassioned vocals, highlights of which are “Stick the Fucking Flag Up Your Ass, You Goddamn Sonofabitch”, “Head? Chest? Or Foot?” and “Fuck Machine”. Outside of these, exceptions to the intense punk sound also help to provide breathing room on the record, notably their cover of Cheap Trick’s “I Want U 2 Want Me”, the ska-based “Ska Sucks”, the reggae-influenced Zionist critique “Haillie Sellasse, Up Your Ass” and “Showdown GE/P”, an interesting tune that is part sung by Chris and part by John K. Samson. The latter makes me wish that they had written more stuff which incorporated vocals from both Chris and John.

As I’ve pointed out in previous articles, Propagandhi are in that rare set of bands that can actually write good political punk songs. It must be so difficult, not just for punk bands but for musicians more broadly, to write political songs that aren’t clunky, corny or overly-preachy. Propagandhi avoid all of this and succeed in combining polemical political discourse with solid songwriting. Their political sentiments are antagonistic and provocative, but are not simply hot air: in similar ways to Bad Religion, their outcries are supported by in-depth historical and socio-political analyses.

What allows Propagandhi to really rise above the typical political punk downfalls though is their wit and sarcastic tendencies. In their call to arms, Propagandhi lay out their (anti-) manifesto with guts and a cheeky smile: “Because this census indicates and this atlas has related 3 billion humynz I haven’t irritated. I’ve got a lot of work to do. 3 billion people. That’s 3 billion snotty fuck you’s.” (“Middle Finger Response”) or “Because if this country is so goddamned free, then I can burn your fucking flag wherever I damn well please” (“Stick the Fucking Flag Up Your Goddamn Ass…”). Then there’s the strong critique of the ‘scene’ that is woven throughout the record, most obviously in “Ska Sucks” (“A message to you, Rudy: fuck you, Rudy”), but on other occasions, too, notably wanting to be “something more than a faded sticker on a skateboard”. It all adds up to form part of an ‘anti-sheep’, free-thinking call-to-arms that is biting, uncompromising and focused.

The Queers- Love Songs for the Retarded

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The Queers’ second full-length Love Songs for the Retarded is a Goddamn ‘90s pop-punk classic. Along with My Brain Hurts and Revenge is Sweet, I would put this up there as a quintessential ‘90s pop-punk record. I love Grow Up but this is the Queers’ definitive album, with their most ‘classic’ hits, incorporating that typical, infectious pop-punk sound. Love Songs is almost relentless in its barrage of snotty, three-chord, Ramones-y and fast-paced pop-punk jams. “Fuck the World” (written by a certain Ben Weasel, of course), “Debra Jean”, “Daydreaming” and “Teenage Bonehead” are among the best songs ever written, never mind in the ‘90s pop-punk scene. “Debra Jean” is one of the rare moments that the album slows down somewhat, crossing Lookout! pop-punk with ‘60s radio pop, something that the band has shown a propensity for throughout their career. The harmonies and the ba-ba-bas in the chorus highlight an essentially straight-up pop song.

The Queers perfectly complemented ‘Weasel in the ‘90s, with each serving their own distinct version of Lookout! pop punk. The divergences in songwriting styles are encapsulated by the differences between the thematic coherence and insights into mental health and alienation offered on Anthem and songs like “Ursuala Finally has Tits” and “I Can’t Stop Farting” on Love Songs, which are really nothing more than pure silliness. That is part of their charm though, right? I mean, not everybody can be Propagandhi. The Queers highlight the importance of playfulness and not taking oneself too seriously, I guess. Love Songs is such a teenage album. I mean, singing about the prom, infatuation with girls (including those that have only recently developed breasts), self-deprecation and finding your place in this fucked-up world couldn’t be more teenage, really. I didn’t actually get into this album when I was a teenager, but years later. So, it feels a bit of a shame; it would have been a heap of fun to listen to at 15 years old. And yet, I still love the record, despite having somewhat missed the boat with it; it makes me feel nostalgic for something that never happened!

 

Rene’s Picks

I don’t remember much of 1992, but it was the year I turned 3! It was probably the year I discovered the Moomin trolls and they would become my main obsession the next 3-4 years. This is also the year that Bill Clinton gets elected as the president of the United States and Benny Hill and Marlene Dietrich died. These are the albums I’ve chosen from these years, none of which I heard when they came out!

The Mr. T Experience- Milk Milk Lemonade

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I originally thought this album was released in 1991 and was about to put it on that list and discovered last minute that it wasn’t. It was produced by Kevin Army and released on Lookout Records. This was the last album with Jon Von in the band and he was also responsible for the art direction, but he doesn’t sing lead vocals on any of the songs like he did on earlier albums. Other than that, the album is pretty similar to Making Things with Light with all the wanky guitar solos, but I think it sounds a lot better and the songwriting is a lot better. The album is great right from the get-go, the opener “Book of Revelation” starts with a baroque-esque melody and it’s played on what sounds like a Renaissance key instrument, but it might just be a Harpsichord, who knows?  The guitar solo sounds like classical music and it’s really soothing to the ears, I might add! The lyrics are all weird, one could go “this is a song about reading the bible”, but also at the same time think “this is a song about a girl”; considering this is MTX, the latter seems reasonable. The last song “See It Now” is one of the most heartbreaking songs I know, it’s the ultimate cry of a lover that has given up: “It must’ve been stranger than fiction/You’re gonna be someone’s wonderful wife someday”. In the middle we find a lot of great songs too, the somewhat creepy “Last Time I Listened to You” and “Make-up” which has assonance that you couldn’t make up, like “rhyming” the word “pointless” with “avoid it”. The obligatory cover on the album is the Smiths’ “What Difference Does It Make?”, apparently Morrissey’s least favorite Smiths song. The album also has my least favorite MTX song: “Christina Bactine”, but I gotta admit that even that is a pretty cool song about a girl. The nursery rhyme title and the lunchbox album cover makes the album feel like a nostalgic trip to 1970s America, just like Making Things with Light. I remember hearing Milk Milk Lemonade for the first time in 2008 and I’ve been loving it ever since. I think I bought the vinyl at the same time as I bought Love Is Dead in 2010.

NOFX- White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean

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Released on November 5, 1992 on Epitaph Records, White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean took NOFX to even bigger heights than Ribbed did. The album was produced by Don Cameron and NOFX. It was the first full length with El Hefe on guitar and it’s also the album that is mostly dominated by Hefe. The jazzy Minor Threat cover “Straight Edge”, the more ska-inspired promiscuous tale “Johnny Appleseed” and Ragtime/ Charleston album closer “Buggley Eyes” are all sung by Hefe, and he also nails the back-up vocals on the album and his vocals are really what makes the album stand out. Fat Mike’s voice is still snotty and El Hefe’s soothing voice is a nice contrast that makes the album sound more poppy and the bridge in “She’s Gone” just makes the saddest song that exists even more heartbreaking, telling the story of a young girl who has lost her mom and stands alone in the schoolyard with no one to turn to.  It’s an interesting album because of all the different styles on it, but also because, even more than Ribbed, it’s the album where NOFX really found their “sound”. Songs like “Stickin’ in My Eye” really was the foundation for the 90s skate punk thing. For some reason I always thought it was on a Tony Hawk game, but seems like it wasn’t, damn. This has got to be some Mandela Effect type thing. Anyways, “Soul Doubt” was on Guitar Hero World Tour. NOFX made music videos for “Stickin’ in My Eye” and “Bob”. I think the most underrated song on the album is “The Bag”, a song about being bored of people’s conversations and the drums are probably my favorite in a NOFX song and once again El Hefe’s vocal harmonizing with Fat Mike is great.

I bought it in the record store Disco Loco in Palma of all places in 2005 and I also found War on Errorism and a NOFX t-shirt in the same store. I had obviously heard a lot of the songs before, but I think that was one of the holidays I remember for wanting to rebel and I wanted to start smoking or something, but it looked so dangerous so I didn’t dare. I remember reading the lyrics to “Liza and Louise” in a punk magazine in 2003 and it really shocked me and I needed to hear the actual song so I went to the MTV website and heard a preview and I thought Fat Mike’s singing was so god damn snotty. At the end of 2004, I also went to the Epitaph page and downloaded “I Wanna Be Your Baby”, which is a weird-ass song, but it holds up pretty well as a song, I’d say. I also bought their greatest songs compilation at the same time and songs like “Bob”, “Stickin’ in My Eye” and “Soul Doubt” were on there, I bought the Ten Years of Fucking up DVD at the same time too, and most of the songs are on there, so maybe that’s why it took me that long to get the actual album; that and I didn’t really find it in any record stores and I couldn’t bother to order it.

Wax- What Else Can We Do?

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I think I’ve already talked about when I heard this album for the first time (in the Weston Got Beat up article: https://keeptrackofthetime.wordpress.com/2017/01/13/read-hards-classic-pop-punk-picks-32-weston-got-beat-up/). I remember getting home that January day in 2009 and put on the CD and it said, “you just put the needle on a very unique record album” and though I didn’t actually do that, at least one of those were true. It was indeed a very special and unique album. I had never really heard anything like it. It was released on Caroline Records and produced by Daniel Rey (who worked with the Ramones a lot on their later stuff). The music video for “Hush” was directed by Spike Jonze. My favorite songs in the beginning were definitely “Hush”, a pop punk song with great indie pop influences, “All Over Again”, a bass driven masterpiece with a beautiful intro that I also think I talked about in the Weston article, the more skate punk number “Never Been Better” and the extremely 90s sounding “Continuation”. Lately my favorite has been “So I Said”, the slow part always gets to me. There’s something quite special about Joe Sib’s singing. I definitely don’t regret buying this album sole-ly because of the shoes on the album cover.

Dave’s Picks

The Mr. T Experience- Milk Milk lemonade

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So, finally, I get to include Milk Milk Lemonade in the ‘Years of Our Lives’ review after originally wanting to put it in the 1991 section. There are better MTX albums than this (and I’ll likely be talking about a couple of them, as the years progress), but I have always found MML to be super interesting and an intriguing mixed ol’ bag. This record was the first of what can be considered as MTX’s classic sound; by this point, Dr. Frank was starting to get into his love-sick, sarcastic pomp. The songwriting really went up a few notches on this one, compared to their earlier stuff.

MML pulls you in straight away with a Renaissance-y, baroque tune in “Book of Revelation”, which mixes religious imagery with love-torn yearning, in that cryptic form of songwriting that Dr. Frank does best. Meanwhile, “There’s Something Wrong with Me” typifies Frank’s at-times self-deprecating observations and humour. I really enjoy the sarcastic and satirical humour on “Love American Style”, too, that takes apart the American dream, not unlike what Screeching Weasel would do the following year on Anthem for a New Tomorrow. I know the cover of The Smiths’ “What Difference Does it Make?” is generally not well-liked but I think it’s pretty cool. I liked what they did with it, transferring the melancholy of the original to a pop-punk soundscape. The rest of the record comprises of straight-forward pop-punk- including the somewhat over-rated “I Love You, But You’re Standing on my Foot”, the ‘meh’ “Christine Bactine” and the fantastic album closer “See it Now”, a great bit of ‘heartbreak pop’ (including the gut-punch of a line, “I can’t believe I am saying what I am saying”)- and “Master of the Situation” that sounds more like the indie rock of the era than pop-punk, with its space-y, drawn-out guitar solos (I assume the ‘Master’ shout in the chorus is a play on Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”).

The Mr. T Experience were quite unique in the pop-punk universe, with their abundant references, quirks and sarcasm. It shows how much I value the band that I put this in the top 3 of 1992, even though I’m not sure it’s in the top 3 MTX albums. See you in 1994, MTX!

NOFX- White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean

white trash

For me, White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean is the first properly good NOFX full-length. There are odd decent bits in the band’s previous albums, but they are generally way too thrashy or metal-y for my tastes. On White Trash…, NOFX became a lot more accessible and melodic. It was basically a watershed record for introducing us to the NOFX that we became familiar with over the following 25 years. I guess you can call this LP ‘skate punk’ broadly, but what I’ve always enjoyed about NOFX is their propensity to mix shit up and continually surprise and that is certainly the case on White Trash…Arguably, the band has a bit of schtick that has gone past its sell-by-date now. The release of a new NOFX record now makes me feel numb but there was a time when I found them super exciting and a good part of it was this album. Having only been 4 at the time, I can’t say for sure, but I imagine that White Trash… shook up the punk world somewhat when it was released.

So, the standouts on this thing? “Bob” instantly comes to mind. I think it was the first NOFX I listened to, or at least the first one that I recall. I loved (and still do) that it was basically a simple punk tune, but also had something quite original going on, melodically and lyrically. “Stickin’ in my Eye” is a classic snarly punk track, but the two I love most on White Trash… are probably “Liza and Louise” and “The Bag”; the former for its pop-punk-y catchiness and shocking lyrics (at least to the 14/15 year old me that first heard this) and the latter for its melodic harmonies and smart comments on social awkwardness. NOFX certainly retained their playfulness and sarcastic take on the world on this record. While “Please Play This Song on the Radio” gets its point across in a somewhat obvious/boring way, the most notable of the silly, playful tunes are those that El Hefe (on his first NOFX LP) led vocals on: notably on the ska-ish, toe-tapping “Johnny Appleseed” and on one of the best covers of all time, “Straight Edge”. The likes of how these tunes highlights how cutting edge and intriguing NOFX were at this time compared to now. From this point, El Hefe usually had a ska/reggae-inspired tune on each of NOFX’s releases, as well as providing back-up harmonies, but it was on White Trash… that he took centre stage somewhat. So, I feel El Hefe was a big part of NOFX really ‘kicking on’ and I assume it was his influence that turned them to more melodic shores.

NOFX- The Longest Line EP

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Yeah, more NOFX. I didn’t particularly want to write about another NOFX release that came out in 1992 but the rules of punk rock dictated that I had to, considering that this was the 3rd best punk release of the year. I always think of the early-to-mid ‘90s as halcyon days for pop-punk/punk rock, but 1992 was pretty sparse. Anyway, the ‘Longest Line’ was a great EP: it came out in May 1992 (and their first release on Fat Wreck), about five months before White Trash… came out. In many ways, it acts as an extension of it; or rather White Trash… acts as an extension of it! This was the first release that El Hefe contributed to, so in many ways, this, rather than White Trash, is the beginning of the signature NOFX sound.

Not unpredictable, but the title track on the EP is probably the highlight: an earworm-y bassline that builds up to a simple, but memorable chorus, with Fat Mike’s trademark snarl in tow. I love the lyrics on it; I count it among their best. It’s a bittersweet reflection on one’s continual bad luck that compares life to Chinese food, “sweet and sour/my life is sweet and saccharine”. The two that follow it, “Stranded” and “Remnants” are more intense and fast-paced punk rock that hit plenty of sweet spots. NOFX’s songwriting was at its best in this era and it is perfectly summed up on this EP, which collects some very wry, on-the-spot lyrics that find the right balance between making a point and just plain silly; this is obviously best found with “Kill all the White Man”, El Hefe’s first lead contribution in NOFX if I’m not mistaken. It’s a stone-cold classic reggae-punk tune El Hefe sings with a faux-Rasta accent. It critiques the colonial ‘civilizing’ mission while remaining firmly tongue in cheek. It was written in response to the Nazi punks prevalent in the punk scene at that time, at a similar time to when Screeching Weasel wrote “I Wanna be a Homosexual”. Interestingly, when you google the song, one of the first things that pops up is the Stormfront message board, suggesting that somebody missed the point somewhat…

 

 

Rene’s Picks

1991 was around the time I (Read Hard) had my first memory. Me and my dad were going to an electronics store and then to a bakery and we heard about this new waterpark that just opened. It was also the year Olav the fifth, king of Norway died and his son Harald the fifth took over as the monarch of Norway. A maybe more important event internationally was the fall of the Soviet Union that happened in December. It was also the year the Grunge wave really spread from Seattle, Washington to the rest of the world with the success of Nirvana’s huge multi-platinum selling album Nevermind. 

NOFX-Ribbed

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Released March 26 1991 Ribbed on Epitaph was a turning point for NOFX’s career. 28 minutes of snotty punk rock there. This was also the first time we got to see Fat Mike’s influence from Broadway and the musical theater. To me songs like “Shower days” and “The Moron Brothers” are songs that to me could fit in a musical. So could the doo-wop part of “New Boobs”.  I’ve written several times about the time I got this album in the mail. I had heard songs from it before, but as a whole I remember it as a great and almost unexpected experience. I’ve always split Fat Mike as a singer up in three periods. The early years (up until 1990), the middle period (1990-1993) and the more professional period (from 1993 and beyond). I remember thinking that Fat Mike’s singing on White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean brought the album down a lot, even if the production was pretty great. From Punk in Drublic on his voice became more listenable to the public and it also showed in the band’s fame. There’s something very charming about the earlier NOFX records and I think NOFX fans are very divided on them, albums like Liberal Animation and the early Mystic stuff is unlistenable to many, but some punk fans find them to be their only good stuff. While S/M Airlines showed a huge step forward in songwriting, Ribbed showed a step forward in vocal performance.

I remember being shocked that I enjoyed it so much when I first heard it. I still think it sounds better than White Trash, because the sort of bad vocals go well together with the somewhat lo-fi production, where White Trash has a really great production that Mike’s vocals can’t live up to. I think Ribbed is very special in that regard. It’s not for everyone, but as a punk album it’s phenomenal. All the songs are great and they touch on important social issues. “New Boobs” explores body image and objectification of women, “Where’s My Slice?” takes a somewhat unexpected jab at the left and “Nowhere” didn’t stay relevant for long as the Soviet Union, as mentioned earlier, broke down later in the year. The song argues that the openness and reform that was proposed in the USSR was also needed in the US and that fear between the two powers only made the cold war worse and concluded that it was time to make the cold war history. Ribbed, like S/M Airlines had Steve Kidwiller on lead guitar and was replaced by El Hefe later in the year, and had more metal elements than the other albums. There are also elements from classical music and ska and Steve’s own “Together on the Sand” was the band’s first experiment with jazz and it was still being played by Hefe after Steve’s departure. It’s also obvious that the band, probably especially Fat Mike incredibly inspired by Bad Religion at the time and it shows in the songwriting and in the vocal harmonies. The album was also produced by Brett Gurewitz.

Screeching Weasel-My Brain Hurts screeching-weasel-my-brain-hurts-e1461794535329

I remember abstaining from writing about this classic album in the first article of my column “Read Hard’s Classic Pop Punk Picks” in 2014 and chose the Weasel album Wiggle instead. One of the main reasons for doing was that everyone seem to mention MBH at Wiggle’s expense. I don’t regret this choice, but as a fan of both albums I’m glad I get to write some about MBH now. It was released in September. Like Wiggle, I think it starts out with its worst songs and just get better and better. “Making You Cry” is to me one of the weakest songs they ever recorded (including their first demo) and how it ended up being the first song on their probably most important album is beyond me. As the album progresses we get to hear all the timeless hits. “Guest List” is the third song on the album and though the lyrics are quite silly it always gets me in a good mood and it’s a song that fits my jumping rhythm perfectly while jumping around to it. However, I think the reason the albums starts with “Making You Cry” is that it’s the closest they would get to their older records, except “Fat head” that originally appeared on “Punkhouse”, my pick from 1989. The album saw more use of “pop” melodies than they had ever done before and many see it as the start of modern pop punk. There are times when the band go back to their more “hardcore” sound, in one of my favorites “I Wanna Be with You Tonight” they start up with an aggressive punk song with sophomore lyrics about being secretly infatuated with a girl in what appears to be a classroom or a school setting that he doesn’t even know the name of, inspired by Green Day’s “A the Library”. The chorus includes 60s “nananas” that make the song more suitable to its quite juvenile and cute theme. The conclusion is that the protagonist thinks she had a boyfriend who is “probably a lawyer or something”. It has the classic lyrics “if you kissed me I would blow up, if I kissed you would you throw up?”. The song is followed by the album’s title track. “My Brain Hurts” is a reference to the Monty Python sketch “Gympy Brain Specialist”. The song reflects on alienation and belief and in this track, a nameless girl is more seen as a queen straight out of a magazine that breathes different air than him. There’s a paradox that the protagonist self-loathingly wonders, “what the hell is wrong with me?” and sings “If I wanna do something right I gotta do it myself or someone else will fuck it up” so arrogantly.

When it comes to doubt and belief, we find the best songs in the middle of the album. “Teenage Freakshow” seems to be like a 20s-something rejection of the teenage fantasy of punk rock and apathetic and even condemning views of the scene, something we even saw in Ben’s lyrics as a teenager. “What We Hate” is probably my favorite track on the album. It doesn’t really take a stand on belief or religion, but in its nihilistic ways show how change is inevitable and even good and that we will at some point have to challenge our views or have them challenged. The faithful will lose their faith and the faithless will become desperate and search for something to believe in and the bottom-line is that we become what we hate. Our lives are pretty much meaningless, as the world will still go on without us. We can make a mark, but it won’t matter to us, we’re dead. Clinging on to religion won’t matter, clinging on to atheism won’t either. “Science of Myth” proposes another view of religion. Inspired by the series “The Power of Myth” and an old newspaper article about rape and the power of believing in God, the song defends belief rather than attacking it. Rather than viewing religion from a religious or theist point of view, it views it from an agnostic point of view. It proposes that we can only get the bigger pictures by letting science and religion evolve instead of choosing between two extremes. The second verse is a story from the newspapers about a woman who was raped and cut up and left for dead in a trunk, but her faith in God helped her make it through. The agnostic conclusion in the song is that it doesn’t matter if what she believed was the actual truth as long as it fulfilled its purpose, to help her stay alive and find salvation in such a terrible predicament. It also shows that what is seemed as untrue to one person could be true “without a doubt” to someone else. The song was also inspired by Dr. Frank of the Mr. T Experience song/thesis “The Complicated History of the Concept of the Soul” from their A Night at the Thrill Factory album. Their Milk Milk Lemonade is a contender for one of the 1992 picks.

Billy Bragg-Don’t Try This at Home

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I actually thought the MTX album Milk Milk Lemonade was released in 1991, so I had trouble finding a third one. I could’ve gone with the Nirvana album, but then I realized Billy Bragg released an album this year, so I was like nevermind.  I consider Don’t Try This at Home to be the last of the classic Bragg albums. It continues in the same style as 1988’s Worker’s Playtime, with some slow ballads and other more upbeat tunes. It was released 17 September on Elektra. It starts up with the pretty much classic Bragg-style song “Accident Waiting to Happen”. A great recording, even though I prefer the Red Star recording just because of the lyrics “My sins are so unoriginal” instead of “dreams”. I think my favorite line in the song is “I have all the self-loathing and all the sheep’s clothing in this carnival of carnivores”. There’s also a reference to the Kinks’ classic “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” (“A dedicated swallower of fascism”) in the chorus of the song. I often think the ballads on the album get a bit boring after a while, but “Tank Park Salute”, a tribute to his deceased father always makes me incredibly sad. A beautiful melody with lyrics about a father and son relationship that death tore apart. The best songs on the album are more upbeat tracks like the country jam co-written with REM’s Peter Buck: “You Woke Up My Neighborhood” and the closing song where the album got its title from “Body of Water”. “The Few”, an attack on modern neo-nazis and wannabe patriots is as relevant as ever.  “North Sea Bubble” is a look at revolutions and getting stuck in political ideology as well as thoughts about the Soviet Union during Gorbachev. Some wonderful lyrics here: “In Leningrad the people say/ Perestroika can be explained this way/ The people who told us/ That two and two is ten/ Are now trying to tell us that two and two is five”. And I will not forget to mention Billy’s biggest hit in America, “Sexuality”, a song with at times entirely cringe worthy lyrics, but that at the same time are meaningful and has a generally body positive and sexuality positive message and lots of puns on the word “body”, that puts Elvis Costello to shame. “Sexuality”, like many of Billy’s other hits have back-up vocals from the great late Kirsty McColl. It’s such a catchy and positive song and the music video is one of my favorite videos of all time. The song charted at #2 in the Billboard modern rock charts and #27 in the UK pop charts.

Dave’s Picks

Screeching Weasel- My Brain Hurts

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My Brain Hurts means so much to me. It’s nostalgic for me, reminding me of my teenage years, not in the early ‘90s when this was released, but years later. This album blew my mind, introducing me to a brand new world of underground pop-punk. As soon as the guitars kick in on “Making me Cry”, I get tingles on my skin. It brings me back to being 16 and not giving two fucks. I was already fairly into punk at this point, but I felt that My Brain Hurts was finally an album I could relate to. It was truly an outsider album, lighting up the margins and giving the finger to the outside world. This was the moment Weasel morphed into a proper pop-punk band, so much so that Ben apparently wanted to change the band name. And yes, I also think that it’s Screeching Weasel’s best album. Anthem for a New Tomorrow isn’t too far behind and had an interesting concept and Wiggle is great, but My Brain Hurts was the moment when everything just clicked for Screeching Weasel (which I think Ben said himself at some point). It’s pop-punk hit after pop-punk hit.

There’s great variety on this thing, too, with silly love songs (“Guest List”), crossing paths with theological musings (“The Science of Myth”) with sad tales of drug abuse (“Cindy’s on Methadone”). For me, the opener “Making You Cry” is the weakest song on the record: it’s quite bratty and melodically is not very memorable. I would still regard it as decent though; John Jughead said on his Youtube show that this was chosen as the first song because of how hard-hitting it was, rather than it being the best one. It’s true that it puts you straight into the Weasel den, and, to be honest, from then on in, it’s pure gold. Every time I time I hear those opening guitar leads on “Guest List”, I get a little smile; “Teenage Freakshow” makes me want to do a silly little jig; the lyrics on “What We Hate” and “Science of Myth” are up with the best; “I Can See Clearly” is one of the best punk covers of all time; and then there’s the closer “My Brain Hurts”, surely one of the best album closers of all time. I’ve tried to keep this as tight as possible, as I could ramble on for hours, but essentially: the cornerstone of modern pop-punk and Weasel’s best work.

Green Day- Kerplunk

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Hey, one year later, and it’s another classic Green Day release. This really was golden era Green Day. I used to always think Dookie was their best, but, over time, I’ve come to realise that it’s probably Kerplunk. Before they got mangled in the major label machine, this was the sound of pure, undiluted Green Day. Don’t get me wrong, Dookie is great and everything, and it wasn’t until much later, that things really turned, but nevertheless, I think it’s Kerplunk that I think of when I call to mind Green Day as a pop-punk band. Fuck all these articles which suggest that Kerplunk was merely a ‘dry run’ for Dookie; no, I’m not having that! I mean, the real hits are here: “2000 Light Years Away”; “One of My Lies”; “One for the Razorbacks”; “Christie Road”.

At this time, Green Day were just so fucking melodic and poppy, it was great; as a bunch of music sites have already discussed, it was only later when Green Day went over to Reprise that their image and sound became ‘punked up’ somewhat. I ultimately prefer the sound they have here on Kerplunk: the Beatles and Kinks-influenced hooks and the tales of adolescent failings, when things felt a little less forced. Just listen to “Christie Road”: it’s the kind of melodramatic, mid-tempo number that Green Day could only pull off so well in this era; the balance is just right and the tune could soundtrack a thousand teenage dramas. “No One Knows” and “Who Wrote Holden Cauldfield?” are perhaps the highlights of the record, but, really, everything on Kerplunk just flows so well, despite the presence of the super-silly “Dominated Love Slave”. Billie-Joe’s songwriting was arguably at its peak here, laying out his teenage diary for all to see: “Why should my fun have to end/for me, it’s only the beginning”. The first Eps were great (as previously discussed), but Kerplunk built upon these and tidied up their messiness, while retaining their top-class melodies and naïve songwriting; it’s taken me a long time to realise, but, with Kerplunk, Green Day produced their career-high, that was pure, uncontaminated, bullshit-free pop-punk and that has survived the ages.

Bikini Kill- Revolution Girl Style Now!

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As Rene did, I also considered having Milk Milk Lemonade as my third pick for 1991, until I was made aware that it was actually a 1992 release. So, I’ve gone for something altogether different instead: Bikini Kill’s first release: Revolution Girl Style Now! It’s referred to as an ‘album demo’, but that’s still an album in my book! It’s the band’s grittiest and most caustic output; you can really feel the resentment and vitriol spitting out of lead singer Kathleen Hanna on this album. The band was credited with co-founding the Riot Grrrl movement and it all started here with these early songs. Pussy Whipped (their first album proper that came out in 1993) is great, but I think many of their most hard-hitting and memorable tracks are on Revolution Girl Style Now! It’s a manifesto for equality, essentially.  They explicitly open “Double Dare Ya” with “We’re Bikini Kill and we want revolution now”. I love that the band was borne out of a radical feminist zine (of the same name) that Kathleen wrote in college, along with drummer Toby Vail.

So how does this thing sound? It’s essentially punk, I guess: forthright, urgent and politically-motivated punk. Clearly, the band were influenced by X-ray Spex and then turned the notch up to ten on ’77 punk; the demo is vitriolic in its messages of equality. On “Suck My Left One”, there is clearly anger, but it’s very well channeled and directed towards its targets: primarily the patriarchy and male oppression. The dirty, lo-fi sound gives the song a grunge-y feel, too, with the band coming as they did, out of Washington. A link to the 1990 list is that Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto mixed this thing! “Liar” is a fast-paced, passionate call-to-arms against domestic abuse, with the end of the song including a clip of a women screaming in pain. One of the most fascinating songs is “Carnival”, a one-and-half minute, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, melodic punk blitz that describes girls giving head “for free hits and rides” that is both shocking and compelling. Bikini Kill do slow it down a touch for “Feels Blind”, essentially the ‘ballad’ of the demo, but, largely, the album is intense, visceral and scuzzy. And the political message is, unfortunately, as relevant today as it was then. We want revolution now!

 

Rene’s Picks

In Norway, 1990 wasn’t the most eventful year, but it was the year of a terrible tragedy. An arsonist set fire to the ship Scandinavian Star on April 7th and killed 159 people. In the UK, it was also the year of the Lichfield shooting where the Provisional IRA shot three British soldiers and one died. It also was the year that Margaret Thatcher resigned as prime minister, but it would be a stretch to call that a tragedy. I, of course, can’t remember any of these things, nor can I remember any of the albums I’m writing about, as I was like one year old. The albums I have picked are Green Day’s 39 Smooth, Bad Religion’s Against the Grain and Jokke & Valentinerne’s III.

Green Day-39/ Smooth

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The debut album that basically started it all. An album released April 13th on Lookout Records and is now in the hands of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ Reprise just like the rest of the Green Day catalog. As a debut album, it really showed the start of the sound that the band would perfect the forthcoming years. Many of their biggest classics like “At the Library”, “Disappearing Boy” and “Going to Pasalacqua” are on the album. The song “Green Day” is also on there. The album was re-released a year later in 1991 with the two EP’s “1000 Hours” and “Slappy” and the song “I Want to Be Alone” as on 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours. I think the best songs are from the two EP’s are “Paper Lanterns” and “Only of You”. They are among the band’s best work and they were extremely young when they wrote them, which might be what makes the juvenile lyrics so effective. “Slappy” is also where we find the Operation Ivy (see last year!) cover “Knowledge” and “1000 Hours” was the band’s first ever release when they changed their name from Sweet Children to Green Day last minute. Drumming on the album, was John Kiffmeyer AKA Al Sobrante and not Tre Cool, who joined the band later this year! (1990 that is)

Bad Religion- Against the Grain

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There have been some comments about the 1989 picks, that they lacked No Control by Bad Religion, so at least here is Against the Grain. I think it’s the superior album of the two, a way more substantial album. That being said, I think both albums (No Control and Against the Grain) suffer from the fact that the songs are too indistinguishable, same goes for Suffer really, but I think the All Ages collection really shows all the gems that are on all these albums, but I consider Against the Grain to be the best one of them with songs like the opener “Modern Man”, the Simon & Garfunkel inspired and strangely enough still relevant “Flat Earth Society” and fantastic slower songs like “Anasthesia” and “Faith Alone” that showed their abilities to create beautiful and thoughtful melodies along with their punk anthems. The original version of their, maybe, biggest hit “21st Century Digital Boy” also appeared on this album and I think it’s better and the re-recording that ended up on Stranger Than Fiction. The title track “Against the Grain” and closing song “Walk Away” should also not be forgotten. It was their first album that sold over 100.000 copies. The album was released November 23rd on Epitaph.

Jokke & Valentinerne-III

Image result for Jokke & Valentinerne-III

I, of course, had to include a Norwegian album in this thing too. III is the third (what a surprise) album by Jokke & Valentinerne.  They had during the 80s gotten an underground reputation in Oslo and their sophomore album Et hundeliv scored some hit and brought the band to the mainstream. Their previous albums were punk-inspired rock albums that mixed up genres and showed Oslo from its darkest, but with their comic book album covers also added humor to the tristesse. III took the genre-blend even further and the album at pop, folk, rock, punk, pop punk, new wave and ska. The three last songs stand out, the album closes with “Koteletter”, a new wave song with a beatbox about pork chops, the second to last song, “Telefonen ringer” is a song about the annoyance of telephone calls and the paranoia that might occur when it the phone rings sung to a ska composition and an intro similar to The Clash’s “All the Young Punks” and before that the beautiful “En dag”, a straight up pop song with an keyboard lead that probably is among the most wonderful pieces of music ever recorded. It’s a wonderful song about love and friendship and thinking about the times you’ve spend with someone and things you’ve done together and things you wish you could’ve done and that one day you’ll do those things.

The most classic songs on the album are probably “Paranoid” a song about being scared of being followed on the street and about being stared at by women in bars, even if these are just cases of the protagonist being paranoid, and “Gutta”, a song about a group off fellas that have done everything together and just wait for someone to go buy more beer and they’re starting to get bored with their existence. At the time, the band consisted of drummer May Irene Aasen, bassist Håkon Torgersen (His last album before Petter Pogo joined on bass) and main songwriter Joachim “Jokke” Nielsen. Probably one of Norway’s greatest songwriters of all time who tragically overdosed in 2000. His lyrics offered a peak into the minds of the characters of the dark sides of Oslo and with self-deprecating humor and honesty made it relatable to a mainstream audience. His brother, Christopher, is a comic artist and drew the band’s album covers as well as the comic strips in the booklets. I remember always liking this band when there was a song on the radio in my early teens, but I didn’t decide to check out the band until the summer of 2005 when there was a tribute show on the radio with Norway’s biggest bands doing covers of these classic. This was the same day as I had gotten one of 1991’s picks in the mail, so that was a great day. Just a few days after I bought the compilation Prisen for popen and I would later in 2005 start to buy all the albums by the band. III was their major label debut and was released on Sonet, a label owned by Universal. Their first two were released on their own label(s) JEPS and VEPS, meaning Jokke’s own record label or Our own record label. According to iTunes it was released on January 1st, but I’m not sure if that’s the correct release date.

Dave’s Picks

Green Day- 39/Smooth

Image result for Green day 39/smooth

Yep, the first Green Day album. I go back and forth on what is my favourite Green Day release (it’s probably Kerplunk), but it’s no doubt that this was their most fruitful period. The kind of pop-punk that Green Day made at this point was wistful, earnest and had melodies that their 2000s selves could only dream about. The pop-punk was largely mid-tempo, but never dull or plodding. On the contrary, it was full of youthful vigour and optimism. This is a collection of ‘tales about girls’, a pop-punk tale as old as time; the songwriting is somewhat naïve and open-eyed, but instantly relatable as a teen. My favourites? Probably “Going to Pasalacqua”, “Disappearing Boy” or “At the Library”, but there is no stinker on 39/Smooth. It’s just fun, and, furthermore, it hasn’t dated whatsoever, despite it being an album full of high-school lusts over girls who are out of reach. The songwriting was always there, right from the beginning; Green Day’s production simply got better later. So, yes, 39/Smooth is raw and garage-band sounding, but for me they have never sounded as good as they did during this period. I sometimes think they have never topped “At the Library”.

Jawbreaker-Unfun

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You have chosen Unfun, I hear you cry! But what about the stone-cold classic that is 24 Hour Revenge Therapy? That is surely the one you should be discussing! Or if not, the controversy of the major-label debut Dear You? Yes, yes, I will get to these, but first, it is worth outlining what made Jawbreaker’s first record Unfun so good. I am not really going to engage with the debate of ‘what is the best Jawbreaker album?’ here, but for what it’s worth, and sorry to the purists, but Dear You is by far my favourite of the band’s releases and I will be certainly be coming on to this when we get to 1995.

But nevertheless, I say that Unfun was one of the three best records released in 1990. It is intense, gritty and raw, but also unrelentlessly catchy. It has many of the hallmarks of classic, underground pop-punk, really, but filtered through a distortion machine. The production is rough and the melodies unrefined, but the latter is arguably as strong as what is found a couple of years later on 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. Just listen to “Busy” and “Imaginary War” if you don’t believe me: pained and visceral, but intensely hook-filled; these two are probably my favourites from the record, that is, minus the absolute classic that is the opener, “Want”. For years, I was too obsessed with Dear You, and never really got into Jawbreaker’s earlier stuff, but always, always adored “Want”. Blake Schwarzenbach’s grizzly yelps probably hit as hard as they did in 1990.

Indeed, it’s partly Blake’s unique and literate songwriting that helps Unfun to stand out from the crowd. Hailing from New York, they have nevertheless been an intense source of inspiration for those mid-Western ‘gruff’ punk bands who find a mid-ground between distorted punk and melodic pop. Jawbreaker’s sullen tales and Bukowski-esque drunken musings have all been more-or-less replicated and romaticised in the years that followed, but they must have been pretty revelatory at the time. Jawbreaker also heavily influenced the emo scene, with their at-times melancholic songwriting style, as well as Blake’s continuous emotional outpourings that never becomes overbearing. “Fine Day” is a great example of this, very much recalling that early-mid ‘90s emo sound that Blake would move closer and closer to with Jawbreaker and later with Jets to Brazil, culminating in Orange Rhyming Dictionary. The band was very young at the time Dear You was released, and hadn’t ‘peaked’ yet, but for a debut album, this is up there with the best. A pop-punk classic of the era.

Fugazi- Repeater

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Yeah, so following the discussion of 13 Songs in the 1989 section, I have decided to harp on about Fugazi a bit more with Repeater. This is definitely Fugazi’s best proper full-length. While they went kind of weird and overly-experimental in their later work, Repeater found Fugazi at a happy medium, between pure, shout-y punk rock and the intricacy of post-hardcore and emo. While they had dynamic and experimental song structures (more so than what was found on 13 Songs), there were also singalong, catchy choruses, too. The title track “Repeater” and “Merchandise” particularly come to mind for their memorable choruses and punchy guitar riffs. There is also a groove to Fugazi’s sound more than ever on Repeater (which is a little bit reggae influenced, as I said last time), from Joe Lalley’s bass, which gets those toes tapping. So, yeah, the spacey-ness of the sound on the record rendered it to be kind of post-hardcore in some aspects, but Repeater also bleeds punk, not least in the lyrics. At times, the lyrics are a bit obtuse and not particularly easy to follow, but in others Mackaye couldn’t have been more straightforward: for instance, on “Merchandise”- “what could a business man every want more than a business man sucking at his store?”. Fugazi were vehemently anti-consumerist (notably refusing to ever sell any band merch) and “Greed” and “Merchandise” couldn’t be clearer in this regard.  I don’t think any band since has really hit the nail on the head in terms of ‘not being what you own’ as Fugazi did on this record. Aggressive and ferocious in terms of the band’s ‘anti-system’ and ‘anti-corporate’ agendas, but intricate and experimental in song structures, Fugazi remain one of the most interesting outliers in the evolution of punk in the last 30 years.

Hey, so a new feature! Having both been born in 1989, me and Read Hard are going to talk about our favourite three records for each year since 1989. Despite not being actively aware or conscious of these records at the time, these are nevertheless the EPs, albums and 7″ which define ‘the years of our lives’…and so we begin….with the final year of the 1980s….

Read Hard’s Picks

1989 was an interesting year. It was the year I was born, for one. It was the year of the first Brazilian election in 29 years and the year that F.W. De Klerk became president in South Africa and the times of apartheid slowly ended. It was also the year the Berlin wall was torn down. There was no longer a West Germany and a DDR or a West-Berlin and East-Berlin. This happened on the 9th of November, about a month after I was born. So, this is not something I remember much of obviously. The day before I was born on the 9th of October, an alleged UFO landed in Voronezh in the Soviet Union (now Russia). The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize that year. There were some great records released this year too, not that I remember any of those either. I’m gonna write about three of them. NOFX’s album S&M Airlines, Operation Ivy’s album Energy and Screeching Weasel’s EP “Punkhouse”.

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Operation Ivy-Energy

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It was first released on Lookout in March 1989 and later re-released on Tim Armstrong’s own Hellcat records. I was thinking of writing about it in my “Read Hard’s Pop Punk Picks” column, but I recently wrote about …and Out Come the Wolves, so it was fitting to write about Energy, as it is the best album from the year I was born. The band didn’t last very long and only put out one full length album. Matt and Tim from Rancid were members of the band. The singer Jesse Michaels later went on to start Common Rider and The Classics of Love. Energy perfectly mixes 80s hardcore with ska, making the way for the third wave of ska. I think there’s some Who-inspiration here too. The drummer was called Dave Mello. The first time I heard Op Ivy was when I was 14 and I heard the songs “Knowledge” (covered by anyone from Green Day to the Aquabats and Millencolin), “Unity” and “Bad Town”. The latter was cooler than any Rancid song I had ever heard and I discovered I really liked this band. I ended up finding the LP in Oslo and dreaded not buying it. I found it again in Camden Town in London and bought it! One of my finest investments!

What makes the album great for me, is that it sounds really low fi and noisy, but the songwriting and lyrics really make up for that, if that were a bad thing in the first place. The lyrics are often socio-political or philosophical. There are still love songs like “Bombshell” and songs about music and punk rock like “Sound System”, “Jaded” and “Artificial Life”, but most of the lyrics seem to be about violence and hatred and how to stand against violence and unite (“Take Warning”, “Bad Town” and “Unity”). “Smiling” is also a song that deals with gender roles in an intelligent way. They also do a cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’”’ called “One of These Days” and it’s just the chorus repeated. “Freeze Up” shows a dystopic view of the world where elected politicians say their phony lines, but don’t offer solutions for the bleak future. The line “It’s 1989 take a look around” was changed from the original version. The album was originally recorded in 1988 at Gilman Street, but it didn’t sound quite right so they re-recorded it in Sound and Vision studios.

NOFX- S&M Airlines

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It was released on the 5th of September 1989 on Epitaph Records and produced by ER’s owner Brett Gurewitz. Fat Mike really wanted to take the band in a more melodic and Bad Religion inspired direction than the earlier NOFX stuff, so having Brett produce the album and other Bad Religion members do harmonics seemed perfect. Mike and Greg Graffin also do a duet on the album, a cover of “You Can Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac. This shows that Graffin was, and probably is, a way more skilled vocalist than Fat Mike. The album is probably the album with most collaborations between Fat Mike and Eric Melvin. It also was their first album with metal head Steve Kidwiller, making it a more metal-sounding album than any of their other records, with hair-metal riffs and solos. Their long hair also made them look like a metal band.

The album is lyrically very punny like most of Fat Mike’s lyrics. The titles shine with clever yet corny word play like “Day to Daze”, “Professional Crastination” (“We’re living in a procrastination!!!!!!”), “Drug Free America” and “You Drink, You Drive, You Spill”. The latter being about drinking and driving and how it’s not as bad as you think, unless you’re afraid of spilling your drink. The title track gives us a peak into one of Fat Mike’s hobbies that is BDSM and so does “Vanilla Sex”, that also mixes the theme of being into kinky shit and the moral majority and the government getting involved in people’s sex lives. The most serious song on the album “Jaundiced Eye” has always been one of my favorite Fat Mike lyrics and it deals with racism. The lyrics “Fascism racism all start up the same/ Stop feeding the fire, help put out the flame” and “All looks yellow to the jaundiced eye” made a huge impact on me as a kid. I bought the CD in Copenhagen, Denmark in October 2015, right before I turned 16. This was also the same holiday I bought Punk in Drublic! Though way too metal for my taste and with vocals that are too bad even for me, S&M Airlines really was the start of the NOFX we know today and it’s a pretty good album in spite of it all!

Screeching Weasel-Punkhouse

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It was released July 7th 1989 on Limited Potential. They had released the album Boogadaboogadaboogada half a year before, at the end of 1988. It’s the first release that features Dan Vapid. What’s interesting about the EP is that it both sounds more hardcore and also a bit more melodic than Boogada. Except for the cover “I Think We’re Alone Now”, all of the lyrics are written by Ben Weasel. The title track has music written by John Jughead and “Something Wrong” has music written by the entire band. “Fathead”, that appeared on My Brain Hurts was written by Weasel, Vapid and Jughead together. “I Need Therapy” is probably the most hardcore-sounding song on the EP and is my theme song. I think “Punkhouse” and “Something Wrong” are the best songs on there. “Punkhouse” is, as I’ve heard, based on a true story (the potato in mouth thing). The song is a catchy Pop Punk tune with the lead solos we got to hear on My Brain Hurts and got some tastes of on Boogada. The song satirizes living in a punkhouse and ends with a Peter Pan Complex statement “We’re never growing up” similar to newer Weasel track “Follow Your Leaders” (“Whatever you do don’t grow up”). “Something Wrong” is about being a band on the road and meeting “stupid” and “fucked up little girls” concluding that “there must be something wrong with us”. The EP was re-released a couple of times. Ben Weasel released it on his own label No Budget records and it was also released on Selfless records. The entire EP was also included on the Weasel compilation Kill the Musicians from 1995. And that was the first time I heard it back in 2006 or 2007.

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Dave’s Picks

Pixies- Doolittle

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Doolittle, Pixies’ second full-length, following the wonderfully raw and visceral Surfer Rosa, emerged amidst the veritable golden-age of indie-rock. The sound of ‘alternative’ was in its boom period, with Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth and Mudhoney having all released career-defining records during this period, but, for me, Pixies was always the crème de la crème of this batch of bands. Incidentally, I think Surfer Rosa is a little superior to Doolittle, but alas, as I wasn’t born until 1989, the format of this article series means that I can only ramble on about the latter.

To be fair, both of these records are great, albeit pretty different to each other. It is well-known that the recording process for Doolittle was in sharp contrast to its predecessor. While Surfer Rosa was recorded in little over a week with Steve Albini, Doolittle was ‘perfected’ over a much longer period with Gil Norton, who was much more ‘hands on’. It meant that Doolittle had a comparatively cleaner, poppier sound, with “Monkey’s Gone to Heaven” and “Here Comes Your Man” melodic hits likely to be found in indie clubs to this day (the latter with an incredibly memorable guitar riff). There are hints of Husker Du and Sonic Youth to the Pixies infectious indie rock sound, but not overly so; Pixies were always doing their own thing and I think they can be barely compared to their contemporaries.

Indeed, they could be put down as one of the most original, goddamn bizarre bands of all time: if they weren’t singing randomly in Spanish, Francis Black was squealing like his life depended on it (best heard on “Debaser”, of course), alongside some of the strangest (and at times, most violent) lyrics ever penned. The songwriting on Doolittle is, of course, fantastic. Although Kim Deal is only actually credited with songwriting on one track here, her influence can be found throughout (although this point of course marked the beginning of the end in regards to internal band relations). There is also incredible variety on Doolittle, where Pixies can just switch from the melodic alt-rock of “Monkey’s Gone to Heaven” to the jittery, country-ish ditty of “Mr. Grieves”. Indeed, the more straight-forward, poppy tracks just makes the weirdness stand out even more, like “Tame” for instance. “Gouge Away” is, meanwhile, a fantastic album closer, highlighting the band at their visceral best. Doolittle represents a thrilling ride, from first to last minute.

Fugazi- 13 Songs

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An influential and legendary band. Repeater is their best full-length, but 13 Songs is Fugazi’s go-to release for me. It combines the band’s first two EPs (‘Fugazi’ and ‘Margin Walker’) but for a while when I was much younger and first heard 13 Songs, I didn’t realise that this wasn’t an actual album. I mean, everything gels together so well. I guess the EPs were recorded more or less around the same time, so it may as well have been a full-length. I guess we all know the history of Fugazi but just in case you were unaware: Minor Threat dissolves; Mackaye forms the short-lived Embrace, an early pioneer of emo along with Rites of Spring; shortly after, in 1987, Mackaye forms Fugazi along with a couple of Rites of Spring band members and a member of Dag Nasty.

It is often difficult to know how to describe Fugazi’s sound, but it is somewhere between straight-up punk (of the spiky, anarchic kind), post-hardcore and emo. I know they have been said to inspire later bands such as Get Up Kids or Braid, but to me, they don’t sound anything like that kind of emo: rather, there is raw emotion running through 13 Songs, that sometimes comes out as pure unadulterated rage (most obviously on “Waiting Room”) while others are more considered, reasoned anger (see: “Provisional” or “Suggestion”). “Suggestion” is just great; a feminist anthem that must have been very much against the grain back in the macho ‘DC ‘80s hardcore punk scene (“We blame her for being there”). I guess there is an anger running through the whole of that scene and time, but Fugazi just channeled it in a whole different way. Some of it sounds a bit like reggae (“Promises”), as Mackaye wanted.

The word ‘fugazi’ apparently means ‘something fake’, but there was nothing at all fake about this forever-DIY punk band. They have always pinned their ideals on their chest and never deviated to gain profit or wider recognition. For one, they never had merchandise as such or had gig tickets above a certain price. There is a timeless quality to 13 Songs that derives from their ideals, meaning that it feels as fresh as it would have done back in 1989 (in contrast to so many of their peers). “Give Me The Cure” is post-hardcore brilliance; “Margin Walker” explodes in all the right ways; “Suggestion” provides a great lead into the much more upbeat “Glue Man”. Also, one of my favourite ever punk lyrics comes from this collection (“Waiting Room”): “I’m planning a big suprise/I’m gonna fight for what I wanna be”.

Screeching Weasel- ‘Punkhouse’ EP

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And so, to the Weasel! Screeching Weasel’s ‘Punkhouse’ EP marked the exciting period between Boogadaboogadaboogada and My Brain Hurts, when the band were really ‘finding’ themselves. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Boogada’ is great, but this EP marked the beginnings of a different kind of Weasel. They retained the brattishness, immaturity and pure fun of their previous work, but became more melodic here (partly due to the addition of a certain Dan Vapid). The songwriting also started improving significantly at this time.

In regards to a greater sense of melodic, I am referring specifically to the title track and closer “Something Wrong”. There is a sense of youthful exuberance and optimism in the former. I know there are a ton of songs about punkhouses, but this one must up there with the best. These are the kind of bratty, charming hooks that would later dominate ‘peak Weasel’ Although My Brain Hurts immediately followed this EP, I think the sound on ‘Punkhouse’ is more akin to the scrappy, faster-paced nature of Wiggle, particularly “I Need Therapy” and “Good Morning”. The vocal melodies on “Good Morning” actually remind me a little of “Dingbat”. “Fathead” is a cool song, but, as John Jughead said on his youtube blog thing, it doesn’t fit too well on My Brain Hurts, and it probably works better as part of the ‘Punkhouse’ EP. The cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” is the only real filler on here (and cover-wise, pales in comparison to “I Can See Clearly Now”). Overall, though, one of the better Weasel EPs, and acted as the starter to the main course delight of My Brain Hurts!