Results tagged “Screeching Weasel”

No Empathy: Ben Weasel Don't Like It (EP)

Although Marc Ruvelo and crew abandoned heavy metal by the time they released their second album, Freedom of Flesh, in 1989, No Empathy never really lost the harder edge of their earlier sound. Indeed, while the Ben Weasel Don't Like It EP has all the hallmarks of a good straightforward punk record -- speed, relatively uncomplicated chord progressions, et cetera -- there are more than a handful of metal-tinged moments on the disk. Some of Ruvelo's vocals could easily be transferred to a thrashcore record without much alteration and the guitars on "Another Word for Unhappiness" do occasionally evoke images of feather-haired, spandex-clad cock rockers windmilling their way through some arena ballad, but the metalish aspects of the band are kept in check and never really approach the ostentatious posturing of some (unnamed) bands with similar tendencies.


That said, this is a good punk record. In addition to the title track and the band's cover of Bad Religion's "Chasing the Wild Goose, which appeared, respectively, as the A and B sides of the original 7" release, the Broken Rekids EP adds three solid original songs to the mix.

Track Listing:

Track 1."Ben Weasel Don't Like It." A good-natured poke at Ben Weasel's notoriously opinionated Chicago scene reports and columns for Maximunrocknroll, "Ben Weasel Don't Like It" is framed by a scene in which Marc Ruvelo asks Ben for the punk rock pseudo-curmudgeon's opinion of his band, to which Ben declares "that, uh, pretty much totally sucked." As a gimmick between friends, the voice-over works nicely and ribs both Weasel and his detractors. I mean, in my limited correspondences with Ben, he has struck me as an uncommonly kind and considerate individual, quite unlike the vitriolic nose-wrinkler some people claim his columns present him to be. "Ben Weasel Don't Like It" sets the record straight: Ben is opinionated and he has a sense of humor about it. He's as willing to criticize himself as he is to critique others. Oh, and the song fucking rocks. Easily one of the best No Empathy tracks out there.

Track 2. "Chasing the Wild Goose." The story is fairly well-known in punk circles: After the successes of their self-titled debut EP and first album, How Could Hell Be Any Worse? in 1982, Bad Religion inexplicably began writing keyboard-laden progressive rock when preparing their sophomore effort, Into The Unknown. Although the band has refused to re-release what many consider to be a disastrous punk rock faux pas, the record did make it out of the studio and into the hands of puzzled hardcore fans worldwide. After the head-scratching and eye-blinking subsided, it seems, people noticed that a few of the tracks were, ultimately, not half bad. "Chasing the Wild Goose," a tale of depression and desperation not wholly unlike some of Bad Religion's later work, is one such song and No Empathy's rendition, while slower than the rest of the EP, is a fairly catchy tune, preserving the melancholy of the original while injecting a bit of actual punk energy into the track.

Track 3. "Maps." Straight-forward poppy punk and a suitably mid-tempo bridge between "Wild Goose" and the faster fare comprising the remainder of the EP.

Track 4. "Another Word for Unhappiness." Certainly not a standout track, but replay-worthy nonetheless.

Track 5. "Veteran." Okay, this sounds like the sort of music I remember from the nineties: bouncy bass lines, buzzing guitars, and dueling vocals on the chorus. Perfect for slam dancing.

Sobriquet Grade: 82 (B-).

Screeching Weasel: Formula 27 (EP)

Formula 27 is easily one of my favorite 7-inch'ers ever. I remember driving to Minneapolis with my roommate, stopping by Extreme Noise, poring over the crates of vinyl, realizing that my finances were rather limited and, ultimately, deciding that if I was going to allow myself to "splurge" on anything, it would be on this four-song EP. I also remember driving my roommate crazy by playing it over and over again on our lone turntable the second we got home.


But that's Screeching Weasel for you. Some people love them, absolutely love every second of the band's music, and other folks . . . well, their taste is impaired.

At any rate, Formula 27 is classic Screeching Weasel. In fact, as a companion to the band's stellar Bark Like a Dog LP, Formula 27 is the last release the band's "classic" Ben Weasel / Danny Vapid / Jughead / Dan Panic lineup would produce. For anyone even cursorily familiar with the midwestern punk scene during the 1990s, this was the lineup that also churned out My Brain Hurts, a cover of the Ramones' first album, Wiggle, and Anthem for a New Tomorrow between 1991 and 1993. And the four tracks on Formula 27 rank right up there with the strongest songs on those seminal albums.

In other words, Formula 27 consists of fast, Ramonsy pop-punk with lyrics about romantic misadventures delivered in Ben Weasel's trademark snotty suburbs-o'-Chicago whine. And it's not that sort of saccharine "If only you knew how great I am, then you'd like me" crap that has brought fame and fortune to certain unnamed guyliner-sporting emo bands. To wit:

Oh yeah I'm getting old and fat and it seems
That everywhere I turn pretty girls just pass me by and stare
right through me

...

Pretty girls oh oh yeah look fresh and bright and pure and so clean
But you know pretty girls oh oh yeah would never associate
with scum like me

Seriously, how great would it be if Jimmy Eat World or the Get-Up Kids sang "I'm getting old and fat"? Brilliant, Ben, brilliant.


Highlights:

Track 1. "(Nothing's Gonna) Turn Me Off (Of You)." Growing up, I never really understood the concept of dancing. I mean, I had a vague idea that it involved moving in response to music, but I'd never felt the urge to move. When I first heard the bouncy rhythm of "(Nothing's Gonna) Turn Me Off (Of You)," however, my body began jerking awkwardly and, suddenly, I got it. Of course, I resembled Seinfeld's Elaine Benes. But you get the point. The song hooks you immediately. Additionally, the song contains another of Weasel's lyrical gems: "I'm not as desperate as I probably seem / you really are the girl of some of my dreams."

Track 2. "Pretty Girls Don't Talk to Me." Now that I'm thirty, I am beginning to understand the whole "I'm getting old and fat" thing. Getting to the song, though, this is one of Ben Weasel's finer moments. You've got a bit of the super-melodic lead guitar sound fans will associate with songs like "Guest List," but it doesn't take over the song. Instead, it's a perfect compliment to Weasel's start-again, stop-again vocals. The really great thing about this track, though, is the twenty-five second bridge linking the relatively restrained first two-thirds of the song with the frenetic crescendo.

Track 3. "I Don't Care Anymore." Okay, take the somber mood of the last song and add hand clapping and ivory-tickling to the mix. These sixties throwback stylings work really well, transforming a solid nineties' pop-punk song into something entirely different. Once the oohs and aahs (well, mostly oohs, actually) kick in with about minute left on the track, you've got the punk equivalent of the sort of song you'd find at the end of a high school movie. You know, the song that plays when the reticent kid gets to dance with the apple of his or her eye. Only this is actually good.

Track 4. "Why'd You Have to Leave?"All right, now take the hand clapping and ooh-aahing from the last song and add the bounce of the first track. Enjoy.

Sobriquet Grade: 90 (A-)

The Clash: London Calling

Although I had been looking forward to starting this record review column for quite some time, I struggled to find a logical starting point. I'd thought about beginning with albums released by bands whose names start with "A," but decided against the alphabetical approach largely because I'd have to wait too long before I'd have the chance to talk about Screeching Weasel, the Ramones, or Stiff Little Fingers. This morning, flipping through the newspaper, I saw that Henry Rollins celebrates his 47th birthday today and, for a moment, I thought about discussing an S. O. A. or Black Flag album, figuring that would be as reasonable an impetus as any for the selection of a record to review.

Ultimately, given the rating system I came up with yesterday, I thought it might be wise to think of the sort of record that would earn each grade so that I could more effectively establish the levels of quality I will henceforth associate with a given level. This way, I reasoned, I would associate the abstract criteria I devised with concrete examples. Thinking that the best place to begin would be at either the absolute top or bottom of my scale, I quickly decided that it would be more enjoyable to start with the A+ level. Immediately a few records came to mind: any of the Ramones' first four albums, for instance or possibly Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. In the end, however, I chose to start with the album I consider the best record ever produced in the history of rock and roll: the Clash's brilliant London Calling.

Before you crack your knuckles and prepare to type up a comment in which you disagree with me, let me just say you will not change my mind. If I was stranded on the deserted island of hackneyed theoretical discussion and was given the choice between taking any one record released by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, U2, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, or Radiohead and London Calling, I would not hesitate for a second to choose the Clash's epic double album. And, really, I'm not alone. After all, Rolling Stone ranked London Calling the eighth greatest album in rock and roll history and famously proclaimed the 1979 record as the greatest album of the 1980s (though, to give the rag some credit, London Calling was released stateside in January of 1980). Though I'm not suggesting that Rolling Stone carries much weight in a discussion of punk rock records, the so-called experts do seem to suggest my punk rock bias hasn't clouded my judgment any: everyone loves London Calling.

Although the band had always shown signs of greatness (both their self-titled debut and their sophomore effort, Give 'Em Enough Rope, measure up to most anyone's standards of a great rock record), by 1979 the Clash had essentially become the greatest band on earth. Billing themselves as "the only band that matters" and famously singing that there's "no Elvis, Beatles, or Rolling Stones" in their world, the Clash had the swagger (notice the album cover's homage to/replacement of Elvis Presley's debut album) only greatness can provide and they backed it up with London Calling, an album as musically varied as any produced before or since, and as consistently great as, well, nothing else.

Combining elements of punk, sixties' pop, rockabilly, rhythm & blues, ska, reggae, and just about every other style of popular music imaginable, London Calling seems to suggest that the band could choose any genre, pick up their instruments, and immediately establish themselves as its masters. James Joyce once boasted that his fiction captured Dublin so perfectly that, if the city were to be destroyed by a catastrophe, it could be rebuilt from his descriptions. Well, London Calling is so good that if all pop music created prior to its release was destroyed, we could recreate the entirety of rock and roll by drawing upon the Clash's album. And it would be better than it was before.

Oh, and the album is as political a record as any anarcho-punk disk.

But, for me, what makes London Calling so exceptional is how good it sounds nearly three decades after its release. I can recall, actually, not liking the record the first few times I heard it. Of course, at seventeen, I was in my "major label bands suck (except for the Ramones, they're exempt) and it's gotta be fast and loud and barely produced if it's really good" phase, so my initially lukewarm response to the album probably stemmed from the weirdly elitist MRR attitude I attempted to cultivate at that point in my life. At any rate, it took a few play-throughs before I enjoyed anything other than the opening track. Ten years later, though, every song on the record sounds as if it could be a charting single and if that's not a measure of timelessness, I don't know what is. As an added bonus, having grown fond of the album while living in rural Norway, London Calling never fails to evoke images of fjord hamlets and glaciers and, as is the case with so much music, always delivers a nostalgia-tinged flood of cherished memories. But, before I succumb to the sweet temptation of self-indulgent reverie, let me mention a few high points on the album. . .

Highlights:

Track 1. "London Calling." The title track sets the tone for the entire album. At turns apocalyptic ("the ice age is coming/The sun's zooming in/Engines stop running/The wheat is growing thin") and cocky ("phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust"), "London Calling" embodies the desperate, frantic energy of a late-Cold War Great Britain unable to contain the class conflicts rippling throughout the isles. And you'll sing along to every damn word in the song.

Track 4. "Hateful." Possibly the most melodic song about drug addiction ever released.

Track 5. "Rudie Can't Fail." Even if you hate ska, you'll love this.

Track 6. "Spanish Bombs." Seriously, how many pop songs memorialize republicans and anarchists during the Spanish Civil War? Now, of those, how may do you want to sing over and over?

Track 8. "Lost in the Supermarket." Punk rock anti-consumerism, suburban isolation, and the depersonalization of modern living delivered in the guise of a poppy a love song.

Track 10. "Guns of Brixton." Paul Simonon's lone songwriting credit on London Calling is the apocalyptic reggae counterpart to the apocalyptic rock 'n' roll opening track: where global starvation and nuclear war threatens humanity in "London Calling," the police threaten the sovereignty of the petty criminal culture of Simonon's hometown in "Guns of Brixton."

Track 12. "Death or Glory." I'm not surprised Social Distortion covered this song. Lyrically, it sounds like Mike Ness wrote it.

Track 14. "The Card Cheat." Possibly the least punk song on the entire album, but oh-so-catchy.

Track 19. "Train in Vain." Save for perhaps "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" and "Rock the Casbah," this is the Clash song you're most likely to hear on the radio. Imagine a train pulling out of a Western railroad station in some oater of an American movie, parting two lovers. . .and make it sound happy.

Sobriquet Grade: 100 (A+).

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