Ahh, Propagandhi. Trouble makers, rabble rousers, vegans, feminists, pacifists, socialists; more liberal than anyone you’ve ever met. All that good stuff. We love ‘em for it, because it’s like an extreme version of us. But we can’t forget about how great their music is, even from the start.
I’ve always prefered early Propagandhi for its classic Fat Wreck approach, and as one of the first bands on the label, they helped define that sound before abandoning it for more hardcore and metal horizons. While I think Less Talk, More Rock is their best, How To Clean Everything shows the band heading towards that perfect mix of politics and comedic with a technical and diverse punk backing.
“Anti-Manifesto” smashes you in the eardrums with lighting fast strumming and muting by leader Chris Hannah and a killer speedy beat by Jord Samolesky. And how classic is the ”By the way I stole this riff (*shreds*)? Love it. Then, rounding out the trio is our beloved John K. Samson, in his first of two albums with the group before forming The Weakerthans. But you all knew that, right?
Clean shows the young Canucks at their most juvenile and crass in their political rants and the most silly in their other tunes. It makes perfect sense: Main vocalist Hannah was only 20 when he and the band wrote the songs. “Ska Sucks,” for one, is hysterical, being a ska song about the ska revival not being “cool, you stupid fucks”. Complete with an ironic “oi!”, goofy laughter and the hilarious ”A message to you rudie / Fuck you rudie!, it’s one of the most unabashedly fun and youthful songs in the Propagandhi canon. They used this irony again in “Hallie Sallase, Up Your Ass,” a reggae song critiquing rastafarianism. It’s a more serious track though, a minor key “fuck you” to all faiths and extremist thought (besides their own...haha), ending in a chorus of ”Fuck religion! “This Might Be Satire” is exactly that, with pop punk as the target. That said, it’s a catchy as hell silly teenage love song with a sinister date-rape twist. Then there’s the comedy sprinkled in the politics. From the title alone, you know “Shove The Flag Up Your Goddamn Ass, You Sonofabitch” is gonna be an awesome and fun anti-Americanism cut, first cursing out his own dad. THEN I’M GONNA SHOVE IT UP YOUR FUCKING ASSSSSS!
“Head? Chest? Or Foot?” might be my favorite song on the album. It embodies what I loved about Propagandhi. Angry yet fun, technical without losing the pop element. They lost this balance with Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes, though I have loved everything they’ve done. “Who Will Help Me Bake This Bread?” has my favorite line on the album: “You can rearrange my face but you can’t rearrange my mind”, though it’s hard to imagine anyone ever beating up Chris Hannah.
The harsher, political jabs are distilled nicely by Samson’s softer vocal style and more romantic and introspective lyrics. His “Girls with the greenest eyes / The first time you had kissed” peeks up between Hannah’s verses in “Showdown (G.E.P.)”. The juxtaposition between the two may seem striking now, but when the record was new, I loved the brief break from being shouted at by Hannah. “I Want You 2 Vant Me,” an obvious cover retitled to get around copyright perhaps (paging John Gentile...), is fucking fantastic and another good breather from the serious stuff. They do so much with the song and take it in a bunch of different directions, ending with a silly a cappella coda about a girl named Megan. And then a bunch of “fucks” to end the album.
How To Clean Everything is my second favorite Propagandhi album after Less Talk though I know opinions vary widely regarding the band. It captured their youthful energy perfectly and their budding technical chops showcased perfectly on the next album. A classic album all around by a great and important punk band, and a perfect example of what “the Fat Wreck sound” used to mean.