I've always felt that country and punk music shared a common bond: both draw from personal experiences displayed in a raw, no-holds barred form of expression. Of course, both also have the their respective "dark sides" of cliché lyrics, ridiculous costumes and obnoxious fans.
It must be nice, to be a member of a successful band such as Lagwagon, NOFX, Foo Fighters or Swingin' Utters AND find the time to jam out with some friends, turning classics from every genre into punk rock tunes that to the untrained ear sound like they aren't covers. So, with their sixth full-length, the Gimmes tackle the world of country music with Love Their Country.
In true Me First fashion, the emphasis placed on the songs is high-paced, yet consistently melodic. Maybe the most interesting facet of the Gimmes is how vocalist Spike Slawson interprets the lyrics with such a personal and seemingly honest approach. While many see the band as nothing more than a joke, his contributions are always a highlight of the release.
Kicking off the album is a rendition of mainstream country favorite, and open opponent of the used-CD selling business, Garth Brooks' "Much Too Young." It opens with some twangy guitar work, but immediately bolts into the quickened tempo you expect, complete with a backing chorus of 'oh's and 'ahh's from Joey and Mike. How they were able to get Garth to agree to this will baffle me for years. Money talks, bullshit walks, I guess.
The fun part of any Me First album is trying to pick out the classic punk samples they've incorporated into the covers -- a "cover within a cover," if you will. And I'm lousy at it. Everything sounds like Bad Religion to me, and the only one I will attempt to make a guess at is Johnny Lee's "Lookin' for Love," with an intro from Bad Religion's "Fuck Armageddon, This is Hell?" I'm probably wrong, but whatever. A brief look over at a place where anyone can post what they want and call it "fact" cites Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" using the riff of "Astro Zombies" by the Misfits, while "East Bound and Down" includes some of the Damned's "Love Song." I'll take your word for it.
Personally, I enjoyed the take on the Dixie Chicks' "Goodbye Earl." I've yet to hear the original, but the mid-tempo pace combined with the well-harmonized chorus make this track one of those songs that can get stuck in your head for days. As a fan of the Burt Reynolds epic adventure "Smokey and the Bandit," including Jerry Reed's "East Bound and Down" (complete with voiceover intro) adds even more points. Though I feel more could have been done with such a legendary song, it's fair to say it was given a rightful rendition.
In the crooning department, we have the Eagles (who I refuse to acknowledge as country) track "Desperado" and Kenny Rogers' "She Believes in Me." Both offer the enthusiastic vocals from Spike, which really tread the line of sarcasm and truly inspired. The only track that appears to offer the expected silliness of the Gimmes would be their swing at Hank Williams' (the Sr., not that Monday Night Football spokesman) "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Complete with bagpipes, and what sounds like a pseudo-Scottish impersonation, it's a fun listen.
What I concluded with Love their Country is that Me First is experiencing an identity crisis. The band is obviously known for their silly antics and fun takes on all realms of music, but their latest seems to take more of a serious angle on how they transform the material. The track that might represent this ideal the most would be Johnny Cash's "Sunday Morning Coming Down." Serious and quirky, the band's personal recognition and relation to the song is obvious. I really enjoyed this album and see myself finding high replay value in it, but I think that what most fans are looking for with Me First is wacky antics on popular culture, and this album is seriously lacking in that department. You decide how important that is to you. I dig it.