So with all the recent news of Ben Weasel ending another relationship with a record label, I figured I’d bring everyone back to a time when he ran his own label and released Screeching Weasel music “on his own terms,” to use a cliché. Screeching Weasel’s output on Panic Button was right in the meat of the curve of their classic releases, as some fans may posit. The Formula 27 and Major Label Debut EPs will always be some of the strongest releases from Screeching Weasel, in my mind. While Emo seemed like a step out of the norm for Screeching Weasel at the time and doesn't muster much discussion these days, I feel this album has really held up well over the years, and to an extent, foreshadowed Ben Weasel’s solo career.
One of the first things to discuss is the album title itself. I read that Ben Weasel picked this particular title due to the fact that at the time a lot of bands shied away from being labeled “emo.” In typical punk rock fashion, Ben Weasel decided to use this so-called taboo word as an album title -- interesting enough for a punk band. However, I feel this album title is dead-fucking-on. The lyrical content of this album is so straightforward and in-your-face that this album could have easily been titled Life Lessons from Ben Weasel. It’s, without doubt, emotional enough to merit the album title.
The next aspect to mention is the production. Clearly, this was not the best production job, but it wasn't meant to be. Ben wrote in the liner notes that this was a decidedly lo-fi recording process, and I vaguely remember reading that this album was totally financed by the band. My one question to this day is: Since Mass Giorgini was basically a permanent member of the band by this point, why didn't they record at Sonic Iguana? Regardless of the finished results, I feel the bare-bones production complements the nakedness of the lyrical content nicely. At times it feels like this album was made for an intimate listen by a dedicated fan, as if it was totally made for the individual listening to the album. Listening to Emo is like being in direct contact with the band.
Now for the personal aspect: I was quickly becoming a big fan of Screeching Weasel by the time of Emo’s release. I was still in high school, and Wiggle and Bark Like a Dog were instant favorites of mine and also my introduction to the band. I had dubbed my friends’ copies of those albums on a cassette and played it constantly in my car during those days (the cassette finally broke during my sophomore year in college; I almost got upset as the tape had a lot of sentimental value to me after all those years). When my friend and I found out Emo was being released, we anxiously awaited the chance to pick the album up and listen to it.
Well, that day came and honestly, it was slightly underwhelming. Going into the first listen, all I could focus on was the production. Sure, some of the songs sounded cool (“Acknowledge,” “Sidewalk Warrior,” “Passion”), but it was so muffled and low. Scared of Chaka had already filled my void of lo-fi garage rock/punk rock; now Screeching Weasel was following suit? Needless to say, Emo didn't make it into the normal rotation for me then.
Fast-forward to my post-collegiate days. I decided to give Emo a serious listen on a whim, and I found myself actually hearing the songs, no longer clouded by the production. Even though in my earlier experience with the album I liked some of the songs, I felt like I finally “got” the album. Everything finally clicked.
Every song (beyond the cover of “Linger,” which I liked the original song and totally dug the version here) is basically Ben Weasel putting forth his ideals into song. The music is great for most of the songs (“Bark Like a Dog” being the exception since it’s relatively the same progression throughout the whole song), but the lyrics are what take center stage. This was the vehicle for Ben Weasel to make the transition from writing catchy love songs and other songs in the third-person point of view and putting forth his own direct take on life. I personally feel he perfected it during the Screeching Weasel era with “Six Percent” on Teen Punks in Heat, but this was an excellent beginning.
During my second dalliance with Emo, I would have to say my favorite songs are “Passion” and “2-7 Split.” They really allow the listener to experience the frustration and, well, emotion that Ben Weasel is trying to express. I always interpreted this form of songwriting as very cathartic for Ben Weasel; as if writing these songs got him closer to a sense of peace. There are many great moments like this on the album, but I enjoy those two songs the most.
I would strongly recommend fans (casual and hardcore) of Screeching Weasel to give Emo another listen. After experiencing Ben Weasel’s solo work, this album will seem like the starting point of his post-Screeching Weasel career. Plus, people could learn a thing or two from ol’ Ben on this album. I know this album made an impact on me. Of course, it took a few years or so.