Teenage Bottlerocket - Stay Rad! (Cover Artwork)

Teenage Bottlerocket

Stay Rad! (2019)

Fat Wreck Chords

So what does it mean when you wake up in the middle of the night singing “I’ve got a wild hair, across my ass”? And then the next day you wake up singing “you mean everything to me”. And the next night you wake up with “I’m gonna murder you tomorrow “ playing in your head. It probably means that the boys in Teenage Bottlerocket have written some damn good songs.

With eight studio albums and numerous other releases under their belt, it would be easy to say that the band has matured as musicians and songwriters. But that’s a bit too cliche. Yes they’re older and presumably wiser. But it’s clear that the band strives to retain that youthful energy that highlights all of their releases. And it’s clear that the band continues to write songs the same way they always have. Consequently, Stay Rad! maintains that same mixture of humor and melancholy, yet many of the tracks are more profound than they may seem upon first listen. Still, contrary to previous releases, there’s only one song on the album about a girl (“I Never Knew”). So maybe they did grow up a little.

One of the characteristics that caught my attention immediately is that the songs force the listener to be patient, which is accomplished using numerous different methods. Some songs (i.e. “Everything to Me” and “Little Kid”) start off with Ray or Kody singing in a low register, which sounds great. But it’s not until later in the song that the lead vocals reach a higher octave, usually accompanied with harmonic background vocals. And it’s these moments that transform the songs and are therefore the most memorable. And many of the tracks on the album lack a traditional chorus, yet there are still memorable melodic moments via little hooks in the middle or towards the end of the song. Even the songs that are purposely difficult to listen to (“Creature from the Black Metal Lagoon” and “The First Time I Did Acid Was the Last Time I Did Acid”) still have some melodic moments. In the end, patience pays off.

Humor has always been a part the Bottlerocket mantra and Stay Rad! is no different. Yet there are extremely profound moments peppered throughout the silliness. One example comes via “Stupid Song”, a track that was written at the 11th hour. The song is about using music to escape the daily grind of life. But it’s hard not to recognize the extensive effect it will probably have on numerous listeners with lines like: “So let me give you some of my advice, when the world ain’t treating you so nice, and all you wanna do is kill yourself, just grab that dusty record off the shelf and listen to another stupid song…” and “I hope it helps you to forget your pain”.

The most heart wrenching moment materializes towards the end of the record with “Little Kid”, a song that references the devastating, sudden death of Ray’s brother and the band’s drummer, Brandon Carlisle. The song ends with Ray singing over and over “I can’t figure out how to be a little kid again.” When the song ended upon my first listen, I simply muttered aloud, “fuck”. I’ve never had a reaction like this to a song before.

But in spite of this tragedy, the band is proud of how the new album came together, knowing that Brandon would probably love it. And despite these serious moments, this is still a Teenage Bottlerocket album at heart. There are plenty of light hearted and dark humorous moments that balance out the serious ones and it makes me pretty damn happy to be singing these songs every morning.