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Smoking Popes - Stay Down (Cover Artwork)

Smoking Popes

Smoking Popes: Stay DownStay Down (2008)
Smoking Popes

Reviewer Rating: 4.5
User Rating:


Contributed by: greg0rbgreg0rb
(others by this writer | submit your own)

It's finally here! It's been 11 years since what was thought to be the Smoking Popes' swan song and last original material, 1997's sublime Destination Failure, an album whose popularity and influence seems to have exploded in the years after the band's demise. I was happy to at least still have Josh.
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It's finally here! It's been 11 years since what was thought to be the Smoking Popes' swan song and last original material, 1997's sublime Destination Failure, an album whose popularity and influence seems to have exploded in the years after the band's demise. I was happy to at least still have Josh Caterer's voice as he continued on with Duvall, and despite a rotating cast, Duvall sounded practically identical to the late-`90s Popes with the only difference being a tasteful injection of his faith into the lyrics. In the March `06 Alternative Press, as interviewed by our very own alum Scott Heisel, Josh himself said "I never intended for there to be much of a distinction musically" in regards to Duvall. But even then we haven't had any original material from them since 2003's solid Volume & Density. When the Popes reunited in November `05 for Flower Booking's 15th anniversary show and decided to continue on, I was super excited that Josh had concluded that singing old Popes songs could fall under 'entertainment' and not conflict with his beliefs. However, we still had 2½ years to wait with only that show's live album to tide us over, but after label and release date confusion, Stay Down is really here.

It is great to have the whole Caterer crew back on board, though it is a shame they couldn't work things out to have Mike Felumlee take part. Responsible for getting unreleased (the five-year-delayed Capitol Records contract-ending cover album The Party's Over, which I rated a pinch high in my excitement) and hard-to-find Popes material to the fans with his now-defunct Double Zero Records, he gets the shaft with not being able to partake in the fun now.

Album drummer Ryan Chavez makes his presence known immediately on opener "Welcome to Janesville," a tune that shows that the guys still have a bit of the punk speed left in them. Later in another quick one, "Maybe I'll Stay," it seems like he's paying homage to Felumlee with lots of snare fills and cymbal crashes in the intro sections. Throughout the Popes' existence they have cleaned up considerably, most likely due to growing as musicians (and Josh growing stronger in his vocal style), losing a touch of their punker roots and heading in a purer power-pop direction, though those couple tracks show they haven't lost that inspiration completely. But speaking of power-pop, let me tell you, "If You Don't Care" is where it's at. It's instantly addictive and in no time you'll find yourself doing your best impression of Josh, crooning along with the ample choruses.

While Josh's unique voice gets most of the credit for the band standing above the pack, Matt's bass and Josh and Eli's guitars are sneakily complicated for what some consider a pop-punk band, utilizing more than the standard I-IV-V chords. Have you ever learned a Smoking Popes song on guitar? Years back when one of my buddies showed me how to play "Star Struck One" I was surprised by the complicated chord progression. I'm guessing that the vocal melody comes first and the chords are chosen to fit around it, as opposed to a lot of bands that do the reverse. While I haven't figured any of these new songs out yet, I'm positive they are just as inventive in their progressions without seeming complicated to the casual listener.

Faith aside, Josh is in a good place these days and doesn't hesitate to tell the world. "Stefanie," about his wife, is book ended with feedback, a powerful track with huge chords ringing over the slow snare cracks and a crunchy guitar solo midway through. One of his daughters gets a tune with the twinkling ballad "Little Jane-Marie," featuring some adorable lyrics like "Perhaps we could split a thousand Cheerios," but never getting vomit-inducing. Maybe this happiness is behind the abundance of slower numbers: the piano-sprinkled and hopeful "It's Never Too Late (For Love)," the touching "Into the Summer Sky" and the 6/8 sway of the title track. While at first I saw this as a downside, I realized all those tracks still have powerful sections and/or awesome solos and Josh's always amazing melodies. The one lyrical downer would be "The Corner," about the death of someone close (or perhaps from the view of a regretful killer? It's hard to figure out the specifics here), with the likes of "I would unshoot every bullet one by one / 'Til the killing came undone."

It's like the Popes picked a finale just for me, with a new version of one of my all-time favorites "First Time," from `92's 2 EP, later collected on 1991-1998. They seem to have taken a cue from former Popes touring guitarist Tom Daily, whose raw acoustic version of the song was one of the strongest tracks on 2003's tribute record to the band. They also forego electric guitars and drum set and instead simplify to acoustics and shaker. There are some fancy guitar flourishes and tasty vocal harmonies in the chorus, though they get a tad cheesy with a vocal echo in the final chorus.

Arguably, Stay Down is a more diverse set than Destination Failure and perhaps as consistent in quality. While Stay Down doesn't seem to have hits as mind-blowing as "Pretty Pathetic," "Megan" and "I Know You Love Me", those songs have a 10-year advantage. Yeah, this album is missing a cornerstone of the band's previous life -- the breakup song (other than in their own cover) -- but you won't miss them. The Popes return as strong as ever, and Stay Down is a must-have for fans new and old.

 

 
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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
strikeeverywhere (August 26, 2008)

A NEW PUNK BAND WITH AN OLD-SCHOOL FEEL!!!

www.myspace.com/mayasruin

Check it out!!!

darkdouchebagdarrel (August 12, 2008)

blade 2 was way worse than blade trinity. (both were steaming piles of bloody horse cum.)

Wesley_Snipes (July 27, 2008)

My movies may not be for everyone, but my name certainly rocks when I play COD4 and snipe-yo-ass with a sniper rifle.

niveK82 (July 27, 2008)

8 words!

To Wong Fu, Thanks For Everything, Julie Nuwmar

marthaplimpton (July 27, 2008)

those are all reasons why wesley snipes is the shit...

especially drop zone

telegraphrocks (July 26, 2008)

Reasons why Wesley Snipes sucks:

- The Fan
- Waiting To Exhale
- Blade: Trinity
- Passenger 57
- Murder At 1600
- Drop Zone
- U.S. Marshals
- Undisputed

Wesley_Snipes (July 26, 2008)

Ugh guh hgu... too many chick names in them lyrics

Scruffy (July 26, 2008)

No, "You Spoke To Me" was about Jawbreaker.

But, and I don't have the live album so I'm trusting this (http://www.theshrubbery.com/0600/music1.html) review:

"But it also contains the reason the band broke up. The last track on the album is a lovely acoustic version of "I Know You Love Me" and before it starts, Josh Caterer says, "This is my favorite Smoking Popes song because it is about my relationship with Jesus.""

I knew I read it somewhere. Took a while to find it though. There's also a reference to it on Duvall's site. Makes me question if the song was originally about Jesus, since the album came out in 1997, and his conversion supposedly happened in 1998, and, if you read Duvall's "Ask Josh" section, he's very adamant about songs having one specific meaning (he seems to be a proponent of authorial intent rather than listener interpretation).

24HourPriapism (July 26, 2008)

next you'll be telling me "you spoke to me" was about god too, and not jawbreaker.

Scruffy (July 26, 2008)

24Hour: "I Know You Love Me" is about God, not a girl. Weird, huh?

Tudor (July 26, 2008)

Horrah for former Capitol records corproate Christian rock!

red_eye_inc (July 25, 2008)

Neil Henessy didn't play drums on this album, I'm pretty sure. He wasn't there for the "play the album all the way through" show.

24HourPriapism (July 25, 2008)

and of course, i meant a cover of "Stars"....not "Under The Blanket"...

24HourPriapism (July 25, 2008)

also that guitar melody in the pre-chorus for "sweet pea" will stick in your head for days.

24HourPriapism (July 25, 2008)

one could say this album is sort of the "bizarro Destination Failure". still great though. and i never got around to a review of the show either. i still can't decide whether or not i thought the Popes were amazing because i just REALLY needed to see those songs live, or if they were really that amazing on their own merits. they seemed really workmanlike, and the crowd that night didn't help much either.

24HourPriapism (July 25, 2008)

i knew there was something i was supposed to do....shit.

i actually tend to look at this album as a series of contradicting thoughts made in the time between Destination Failure and 2008.

when you listen to tracks like "If You Don't Care," it's about as meticulously crafted a pop song as "I Know You Love Me," except it's about the flipside to a relationship....the bitter, complacent end rather than the hopeful, nervous and deliriously giddy beginning. meanwhile, uplifting songs like "It's Never Too Late For Love" and "Maybe I'll Stay" are like shimmering lights at the end of the dark tunnel brought on by such profoundly heartbroken songs like "Pretty Pathetic" and "Paul".

And for some reason, "Stefanie" reminds me of "Be My Baby". maybe it's the really slow, towering drums, or those drawn-out, ringing guitars, replicating that wall of sound phil-spector style production.

"Into The Summer Sky" was a bit of an anticlimactic end to the album though. i kept waiting for them to completely open up those ripping guitars in the chorus but it never happened.

the new version of "the first time" is so damn good though. it feels a little too bonus-tracky though. i wish they could've redone "under the blankets" like that, that would've been the jam.

see, aren't you guys glad i didn't do this review? shit would be disjointed as a motherfucker.

greg0rb (July 25, 2008)

Glasspipemurder - thanks for the insight on The Corner, I'll have to check that out... not too familiar with Capote's stuff.
Scott and other guy- it does make sense that it would be Chavez on drums, but their PR person told me Hennessy was on the record, so I went with it. Still don't have a physical copy to look at the liner notes or anything.
Other guy - Amazon says it has copies for sale, so that's an option since Appeal's website has nothing on it at this point.
-Greg

Scruffy (July 25, 2008)

I'll be at the Shot Baker show, Kevin. See ya there if you come!

minus_20_scene_points (July 25, 2008)

nivek82: for the shot baker/popes dilemma, i'm opting for wicker park fest followed by shot baker, and catching the popes aug 2nd. it seems like the popes are playing every other weekend, as is.

mikexdude (July 25, 2008)

I haven't heard this yet, but chances are, it's awesome.

Score is for how many good records came/are coming out this year.

Problematiclogic (July 25, 2008)

Really great album.

I hadn't heard much of them before either, but this album has got me excited to check them out.

Also, I'd take this over the new Alkaline Trio any day.

niveK82 (July 25, 2008)

Which show do I go to tomorow?

Shameless Hours: Smoking Popes, tub Ring, Dead Town Revival, Vortis, Danger Is My Middle Name, After The Fight, Wednesday Adams, The Hallow
TheObstacles, The Hollywood Nightmares

Shot Baker cd release show: Shot Baker, Off With their Heads, After the Fall, Vacation Bible School

SloaneDaley (July 25, 2008)

where might one obtain a physical copy of this album?

ddb43 (July 25, 2008)

This album is in constant rotation on my ipod. Such great songs. This shit will get stuck in your head, and that is a good thing!

tonyregret (July 25, 2008)

drumming on this album by Ryan Chavez, not Tennessee Henessy

maverick (July 25, 2008)

Great record. "If You Don't Care" and "The Corner" are seriously top-notch gems. Also, I think Ryan Chavez actually played drums on this record, as it's been done for some time now and Neil only recently joined the band.

-Scott

glasspipemurder (July 25, 2008)

"The Corner" is about (based on?) Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood."

bryne (July 25, 2008)

This record is great. Thanks for coming back, dudes.

baseball (July 25, 2008)

This album is one of my favorites of the year. I never really heard much of their older stuff, this is the first one I've heard all the way through.

Stylistically to me, it sounds like a combination of, if Alkaline Trio and Weezer both put out the albums I wanted to hear. Yet, more elegant. Does that make sense?

The lyrics get pretty softy sounding, for lack of a better description, but it always sounds sincere and works to its advantage overall. Great album, I got it off emusic.

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