Screeching Weasel - Baby Fat, Act 1 (Cover Artwork)

Screeching Weasel

Baby Fat, Act 1 (2015)

Recess Records

These days, it can be difficult to classify yourself as a Screeching Weasel fan without applying a big fat asterisk to the end of the statement. Some may say that they are a fan of the band, but not of the views/actions/overall attitude of outspoken front man Ben Weasel. Others may feel that the group’s revolving door of band members makes Screeching Weasel a faint shadow of its former self. Or perhaps they just feel that the band is not as good as they once were in their late 80s/early 90s heyday. All of these arguments are frequently bandied about with varying degrees of success. Either way, I think we can all agree that Ben Weasel has written some incredible hooks and certainly shown that he still can, albeit with a shakier consistency. On the past couple of albums fans have had to cherry pick the catchy numbers and dump out the stinkers. Here with Baby Fat Vol. 1, Weasel has supplied us with a whopping 27 tracks to sift through.

Baby Fat Act 1 is the first part in a proposed rock opera and features guest vocals from Blag Dahlia, Roger Lima, Todd Congelliere, Kat Spazzy and others. The use of different vocalists helps establish the voices of different characters within the story and attempts to keep the nearly hour-long album from becoming a monotonous, repetitive slog. If this sounds too highfalutin for the band that wrote “I Wanna Be Naked,” fear not, there are songs about dead monkeys and VD within the first 12 minutes. These songs about deceased primates and unfortunate genital ailments do purposefully mingle with the more serious tracks, pushing forward the first half of the story this record aims to tell.

This carnival set concept record sees Screeching Weasel making their most pointed, concerted effort to try something different both lyrically and musically. Steve Reich and Philip Glass aren’t going to drool over these arrangements, but the backing tracks add some intricacy to Screeching Weasel's playbook and actually have more in common with Ben Weasel’s solo works than 2011's straightforward First World Manifesto. Mike Kennerty of The All-American Rejects can be found in the producer's chair here, making sure everything sounds crystal clear and sparkling clean. Baby Fat features many sounds and textures that are alien to Screeching Weasel's back catalogue.

Given that this record tells a unified story, you would assume that it would be essential to listen to this record front to back each time, right? Well, yeah, if you don't want to miss the overwrought, blandly "operatic" songs like "We Never Knew" or "I'm a Lonesome Wolf." These songs are cringe inducing works of banality and make you yearn for the catchiness of that earlier song about the guy who caught an STD. Filler songs like the pointless "Disharmony" and the repetitive "Cursed" only serve to push the plot forward or pad out the running time. The worst songs mostly live on the second half of the record, making this album a bit of an unfortunately lopsided mess.

The first half of this record makes healthy use of the guest vocalists, as Ben Weasel's snotty voice is only heard every now and then. The different vocals can be put to good use ("Things Aren't so Bad After All" and "Baby Fat's Got a Girlfriend") or completely wasted on forgettable duds ("Here to Stay"). When his vocals do appear more frequently during the back half of the record, it is too little too late as the record already feels like a drag. Ben's vocals mostly appear on songs with vague lyrical content like "24 Without Belief" or "Sleeping Beauty" that feel like they could be cut and pasted into any other Screeching Weasel album without raising any eyebrows. This is a shame, as Ben Weasel's voice is arguably his best asset. It can add dimension to even the blandest of melodies so, when he relies on other singers to carry undercooked songs, they can't help but sound flat and uninteresting.

I'm going to keep the discussion about the plot/story/characters to a minimum here. Screeching Weasel was dropped from Fat Wreck Chords after a series of unfortunate incidents a couple of years ago, details of which are probably not completely public. At times it is completely obvious that Baby Fat and members of his circus are stand ins for Fat Mike and employees/acolytes of Fat Wreck Chords. Ben Weasel certainly hasn't been shy about writing negatively about them in the past. Jokes about drug use, impotency and various school yard talking points are thrown every which way via the lyrics. It does not matter what you feel about either side of this "battle," the bitterness on this record is overbearing, sad, and immature. It actually drags some genuinely good songs down to a pathetic level and suffocates them.

I cannot help but admire Screeching Weasel for trying something new with this album instead of sticking to the same tired formula. The record begins with an optimistic, energetic start, as the bombastic "Attention!" grabs your, well, attention and the Copyrights-esque "All Winter Long" latches onto your brain. However, after a while, the album sounds like a group of musicians spinning their wheels in the mud while screaming "Ambition!" Fans will be best off cherry picking yet again with this set of songs. There's a good 30 minute album in here somewhere, it's a shame Screeching Weasel didn't trim some of the baby fat.