Mean Jeans - Jingle Collection (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Mean Jeans

Jingle Collection (2018)

Fat Wreck Chords

Ultimate sell-out or agit-prop culture jam? And does it even count as a sell-out if you’re not getting paid? Perhaps feeling that they’ve tapped the essence of their Ramones influence enough, Mean Jeans have picked a new strategy for their fourth long player, Jingles Collection. Instead of two minute, third chord boppers about partying and depression, the band has recorded 23 jingles for various international corporations- The kicker being that no one is paying the band to write these ads. As a side note, one could argue that this too is a Ramones homage to that band’s famous Steel Reserve jingles.

On the record, the band pays seemingly earnest tribute to Totinos, Taco Bell, Camel Lights, and even Rain-X Wiper Blades. Most songs are timed to fit 15, 30, and 60 second radio/TV spots precisely and, quite surprisingly, there really isn’t any mockery here. In fact, in interviews, the band has taken an almost combative stance when it has been suggested that these is any anti-consumerist sentiment here. Now that the overwhelming punk rules are that “commercials are bad” and “getting paid for art undercuts the art itself,” there is something refreshing about a band saying “fuck you!” to those lines of thought directly.

It does help that Mean Jeans really are master jingle writers. Having honed their skills for the past decade in bubblegum-punk, the band has always cherished and honed the classic rock n roll song format. Knowing that an economical approach is key to the jingle, the band whittles short songs down to their bare essence and manages to kick out 23 genuine earworms. Also fun is the sly homage here and there. “Polly-O String Cheese” winks towards the Misfits. “Rain-X Wiper Blades” is more of a pastiche of post-punk college rockers and could be deftly slipped into most Husker Du and Wipers records. Put Hank Williams Jr on the vocals for “Skoal” and you have a commercial that the vice company would literally have to pay a quarter million for.

By the time the record gets even a single spin, a few things are clearly apparent. First, Mean Jeans know how to write a great song. Any mook can croak along to an acoustic guitar and sound heartfelt, but it takes mastercrafts to make a 50 second song about how great Kinkos is seem heartfelt- and they do, mind you. But, perhaps more importantly, we’re left with an outstanding question that even the band doesn’t answer. Has commercialism permeated our psyches to such a degree that we can’t even write songs without their omnipresence… or is art striking back and pimping out brands for its own ghoulish glee?

As stated above, Mean Jeans seem to argue that this is pure appreciation- still, there is at least some humor here- see the hilarious “yee haw” affect the band adopts on “Skoal” or the John Mayer self-seriousness of “Dunkaroos.”

Let’s just cut to the chase. This record isn’t going to get as many spins as its brothers, if only, because the these jingles are so reminiscent and so catchy in regards to their sponsors. But AHA! If a record is so enslaved to corporations that it somehow loses sales appeal, isn’t that true art? What is slavish devotion to commercialism despite the fact the release is decidedly non-commercia?. Art need not be judged on how replayable it is- by that metric “Two Princes” is better than Metal Machine Music and that can’t possibly be right. Rather, at least in my eyes, great art is art that observes phenomena, and forces the listener to engage with the subject matter at that platform. By that standard, Jingles, as crassly commercial as it is, operates at a higher level than most by-the-numbers records released this year. I don’t have an answer to the question presented here and that seems to be entirely the point.