My first reaction to this new Pansy Division 7″ was extreme disappointment. Unfounded, but extreme.
It was a quick sell at the record store when I came across this single. The back cover lists two songs: “Average Men,” the simple and amusing lyrics to which are also present, and “Coming Clean,” which is credited to B. Armstrong. Jello Biafra, legend of punk, singing a Green Day song from the album that changed my life forever, backed by a band of pop-punk veterans? Count me the fuck in.
Oh, what a sense of “blah” overcame me when I got home and played Side B first. No Jello to be found! It was just a proficient, (slightly) slowed down version of a song I’d already heard a million times before. Which would probably have been fine, if it coulda been Jello instead of some normal singing guy. I found myself wondering if you could return an opened record.
It took three days of intense soul-searching to finally pick it up again and listen to the A-side for the first time. Turns out “Average Men” kicks ass. It’s a stomping, rolling rock song, with the touches of menace and humor that you’d expect from Jello, but it has the upbeat pop of `90s Bay Area (see: Lookout! Records). Somehow, it’s exactly what I expected while still being incredibly surprising and fresh. It lasts maybe 30 seconds longer than it needs to, but that doesn’t keep the song from becoming an instant favorite.
After being so taken with that song, I figured it was worth giving “Coming Clean” another shot. Knowing what to expect this time, I was again surprised by (a) how many subtle changes they actually did make to the song and (b) how much I liked it. It plays well as an introspective counterpart to the more defiant A-side, which is kind of a triumphant refusal of “straight dude stuff” (Pansy Division is a bunch of gay dudes). The instrumentation and vocal delivery add a tenderness to the song and offer up a slight reinterpretation of some choice lyrics (”now mom and dad will never understand…”).
So, I guess the moral here is that if you judge a record by its “cover,” you should listen to the A-side first.