The Lawrence Arms - A Guided Tour of Chicago (Cover Artwork)

The Lawrence Arms

A Guided Tour of Chicago (1999)

Asian Man

The Lawrence Arms, as everyone may know, consists of former Slapstick and Broadways catalyst Brendan Kelly (vocals, bass), former Tricky Dick guru Chris McCaughan (guitar, vocals) and Baxter icon Neil Hennessey (drums). They have made a promising name for themselves with their new release "Apathy and Exhaustion" on Fat Wreck, but "AGTOC" is where they started, and laid the groundwork for future success. Without any previous knowledge of Kelly's vocals and lyrics, one would have trouble becoming acquainted and at the same time admiring his unique skills. His voice has been described as snotty, or gruff (a word that he might have innovated) but it gives TLA their sound and their own dimension. McCaughan adds some quality riffs and signatures, but as anyone can tell by listening to the entire TLA collection, this release is obviously not as refined or prepared, in regards to sound and recording quality, as much as later releases, but could still go down as their best album.

It did not take me long to fall in love with the album, as I was always in admiration of the lyrics and the tempo of each song. It's fast and upbeat, and each songs take over from the previous in a manner where you become hooked. Kelly has admitted that this release was rushed and preparation was lacking only because the demise of the Broadways took place a few months before the release. All in all, one could see what the Lawrence Arms were capable of doing, and how they could only get better from here on.

The album begins with a catchy guitar intro in "An Evening of Extraordinary Circumstance," where Kelly discusses exactly what his life was about. Anyone can relate to the song that has lived on their own and only dreams of something a little better and a bit more exciting. It's an opener that will definitely have you singing along in no time.

"Kevin Costner's Casino" is next, and you will never hear Kelly, or many others sing as fast as he does here. Also, you'll never ever appreciate Kevin Costner, but who's to say you ever did. Kelly displays some unique, Broadway-ish lyrics here, in a more political aspect.

The best song that could fit into the album's tempo at this point is "A Guided Tour of Chicago," as it's not as fast as the two, but more mellow. This song is about all of the homeless people in Chicago that you come across, and Kelly adds a humourous Sesame Street line at the end. Look out for it.

Who said that TLA had a drinking problem? Well, I guess they do a good job of promoting it, as "Take One Down and Pass It Around" is next. Kelly does an excellent job here of providing dark insight of drinking. I can only emphasize to the reader to check out these lyrics. They are incredible and Kelly does such a great job of relaying his thoughts and ideals into music.

Another interesting perspective that Kelly leads us into is the idea that we are all bloody lazy. "One Day.. We're All Gonna Weigh 400 lbs." is a fantastic song about what we have, what we abuse, and how it is just plain lazy. This is another must check out song as it will make anyone think about what we are fortunate to have, on a technological standpoint, yet Kelly makes us feel like we should be ashamed. Interesting.

Guitarist McCaughan makes his debut with vocals alongside Kelly in the next song, "Northside, The L&L, And Any Number Of Crappy Apartments." It's actually about a night between best pals Kelly and the infamous Matt Skiba. This is an excellent song to see live, as Kelly and McCaughan face each other, providing taunting riffs on each of their instrument, and usually some crazy hi-jinks provided by Kelly. It's a strong, strong debut by McCaughan.

The following two songs are similar, as they are both real fast and real easy to love. "Smokestacks" is a great song, real catchy, but "Detention" deserves attention. It's about a dream that Kelly had which adds an eerie feeling when listening to it (a guy dreamt this...?) but the drum beat to open it, Brendan's crazy, and fast vocals and the powerful ending is something to love. It's a song you can only dream they'll play live. I bet it can't be done.

"Uptown Free Radio," is a real cool song. It never hit me as much as every other song, but it is not bad at all. You'll love Kelly's vocals a lot in this song, and McCaughan adds excellent harmony when it is most needed.

The album closes with "Eighteen Inches," which is a TLA supporter favorite. It takes so many different twists, and the lyrics are incredibly different in every phase of the song. It's the first ever TLA anthem, and it's one of their best songs ever. It's a solid way to end the album.

If you heard the Lawrence Arms first through "Apathy and Exhaustion," you must pick up AGTOC. You may be dissapointed, as the quality of sound is less. But then again, realize this is Asian Man compared to Fat Wreck. The music is brilliant, the lyrics are the rawest and best they've been, and it's a must for anyone who is into a fast, incredibly upbeat tempo with deep and socially critical lyrics.. I am sure any TLA fan, or Alkaline Trio fan has this album, but if you've liked what you may have heard on "A&E," pick this up immediately.