Canadian Graffiti (2017)
Before 2017, I was only vaguely aware of long running Ottawa pop-punk band The Riptides. Founded in 1998, most of their existence falls into a time when I wasn’t really listening to much pop-punk. I was a huge fan of the style in the early and mid 90’s, but that era ended for me about the time Larry Livermore left Lookout! Records. I still followed old favorites like Screeching Weasel and Parasites, but didn’t pay much attention to newer bands. I’ve spent the last few years trying to make up for lost time. I can add The Riptides to the ever growing list of bands that I’m sorry I missed out on the first time around.
Canadian Graffiti is the band’s 8th LP, and their first in eight years. In a lot of ways, it’s a throwback to those pop-punk classics I loved as a young man. It was even recorded at the legendary Sonic Iguana by the equally legendary Mass Giorgini, who was responsible for so many of those Lookout! favorites. The Riptides hit the sweet spot somewhere between The Queers and The Lillingtons. Musically, the songs are undeniably catchy. Lyrically it’s generally silly and light hearted, but can be deceptively dark and clever. Instrumental opener “Shit Sandwich” gets bonus points for its Spinal Tap reference.
Most of the songs generally fall into one of three loosely defined categories. I would describe the first category as heavily Beach Boys influenced surf-punk. (Think Don’t Back Down era Queers.) First single “Goodbye Hawaii” is a perfect example. Upbeat love song “Someone Just Like You” is a duet between Riptides singer Andy Vandal and the incomparable Bif Naked. It also has some nice keyboard work by Punknews’ own Greg Simpson, who did some production work too. “Totally Wasted”, “Fast Girls” and the bittersweet “Happy Ever After” also belong in this group. All have the type of choruses and backing vocals that will get stuck in your head for days.
The next category would be the snotty, antisocial punk songs. (This time think Love Songs for the Retarded era Queers.) “Couldn’t Care Less” and “Babybottle” are oozing with bad attitude. “Wimpy Goes to Washington” is an interesting narrative about original Queers singer Wimpy Rutherford. “Eyes Wide Shut” is probably the most intense song on the record, and probably the most overtly political. It’s also probably my personal favorite. “Motormouth” is only 32 seconds long and lets guitarist Corey Omega take a stab at lead vocals. “I Don’t Wanna Go to Work” is the type of anthem we can all relate to. These slightly angrier songs are no less catchy than the poppier ones.
The last category would be the espionage and science fiction inspired songs. (Think Death By Television era Lillingtons.) “Get Out of My Dreams, Get Into My Tardis” manages to hit two major pop culture touchstones. (Personally, I can live without 80’s soundtrack king Billy Ocean.) “Beam Me Up” is similarly light hearted. “Homing Missile”, “Spies Like Us” (another 80’s movie reference) and “Manchurian Candidate” (a ‘59 novel and ‘62 film) are more intense but just as memorable. Closer “Waterloo” is a cover of a 1959 song by country singer Stonewall Jackson and once again features some tasty keyboard licks courtesy of my pal Greg.
Canadian Graffiti has a lot going for it. Most importantly, it’s fun to listen to. It’s 18 songs in 36 minutes and it flies right by. There’s a fair amount of musical diversity to keep things interesting, all within the context of the pop-punk genre. The long gap between albums seems to have breathed new life into the nearly two decades old band. The Riptides really paid attention to even the smallest details. The cover art was done by Archie Comics artist Dan Parent, and is a nice touch. (Don’t scrimp on the artwork kids!) The production is flawless, and Mr. Precision (88 Fingers Louie) plays guest guitar on a couple of songs. If you’re a pop-punk fan, I can’t recommend this enough.