The Lawrence Arms - Cocktails & Dreams (Cover Artwork)

The Lawrence Arms

Cocktails & Dreams (2005)

Asian Man records

When I bought Cocktails & Dreams 15 years ago, I remember not knowing what I was actually purchasing. I was a fan of the Lawrence Arms and I had the 4 full lengths that preceded it. And when I saw it in the record store, I just assumed it was a new album. But when I was listening, I noticed a few familiar tunes, though I had no idea how because I’m pretty bad at remembering song titles, especially Lawrence Arms song titles. So I dove into the liner notes as I listened a second time to find out that this was a collection of B-Sides and Rarities. And I recall thinking, damn, this is a pretty cohesive record of random songs. And shit, these are b-sides? Most bands would kill to have leftover songs as good as this.

Now it’s not entirely true that these are leftovers, but that’s kind of how it’s perceived I guess. Some of the tracks were from a couple different split records, some were from various compilations, and some were re-recordings of previously released songs or demos. Despite the fact that these tracks are from various time periods, there’s still a pretty good level of consistency that makes for a great album, despite being a bit longer than a normal Lawrence Arms record.

As usual, there’s a pretty even split between Chris’s songs and Brendan’s songs. Their vocal styles can be drastically and notably different. Yet my favorite albums from the band, Oh! Calcutta! for example, contain songs with vocals that blend really well. For example on “Quintcentuple Your Money” and “Toast”, Chris’s typical delivery is barely recognizable and is a perfect compliment to Brendan’s rasp. And when Chris takes the lead on songs like “100 Resolutions” and “Nebraska”, Chris’s voice sounds pleasantly weathered, enhanced by Brendan’s backups, which appear to sound somewhat subdued. In other words, they balance each other out perfectly.

It could be argued that the Lawrence Arms are an acquired taste. There are some songs that will hook you immediately, while others will grow on you with time. And that’s the sign of a great band. Everytime you listen to Cocktails & Dreams, you hear something new. And as usual, the lyrics are witty and profound. But it’s helpful that the liner notes provide more insight into most of these tracks.

Another sign of a great band is longevity. Being a band for this long is a huge accomplishment. But to have the same members for this long is even more amazing. It seems to be a given fact that the Lawrence Arms would not be who without these three members. And that includes the backbone of the group, Neil, whose skill and precision is clearly evident on this record, despite being grossly underrated.

Since this compilation, the band has released some great records, which most people would argue are better than Cocktails & Dreams. But I find myself returning to this cd often, even after 15 years. It offers a pretty solid glimpse, even for b-sides, into where they were and where they were headed.