The Lawrence Arms - Oh! Calcutta! (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Lawrence Arms

Oh! Calcutta! (2006)

Fat Wreck Chords

Released on March 7, 2006, Oh! Calcutta! is the sound of The Lawrence Arms distilled into its purest form. The Greatest Story Ever Told gets widely praised as the group’s crowning achievement, and it’s certainly their most ambitious effort, from its musicality to its intricate and detailed packaging, complete with footnotes. However, when one pictures the sound and spirit of the Lawrence Arms, the short, raspy-voiced odes to late nights in shitty bars and solidarity in friendship, what we hear on Oh! Calcutta! is what comes to mind.

Oh! Calcutta! is all gas and no brakes, or rather, all “On With the Show” and no “Raw and Searing Flesh.” While there are a few small moments of breathing room, such as the intro to “Recovering the Opposable Thumb” (which makes for one hell of a show opener,) for the most part, it’s full steam ahead. Things kick off with the glorious 1-2-3 punch of “The Devil’s Takin’ Names”, “Cut It Up” and “Great Lakes/Great Escapes.” From the outset, it’s clear that the group have refined their sound to the bits that are the most fun to sing along to live.

While the vocal duo of Brendan Kelly and Chris McCaughan trade off vocal parts in nearly every song, as opposed to their previous practice of switching off track by track, and actually end up splitting up vocal duties about 50/50, Kelly dominates on this album. Nearly every song feels like a Brendan song, partly due to their speedier, more aggressive nature. The few more Mcaughan-centric songs on this album are also the ones that don’t quite rise to the level of bona-fide beer-punk classics. “Old Dogs Never Die” is certainly no “Brickwall Views” or “100 Resolutions.”

It’s no secret why a majority of the tracks on Oh! Calcutta! have gone on to become live staples, but there’s a couple deep cuts that seemed to have slipped through the cracks. “Jumping the Shark”, one of the few midtempo cuts on the album is also one of its best, with it’s “Hitchin’ a Ride”-esque verses and built-for-singalongs chorus of “Tonight, tonight I’m walking away.” “Key to the City” would also be a great live singalong, were it not so difficult to sing along to, featuring some of Kelly’s fastest vocals ever put to tape.

However, the album’s centerpiece, its standout among standouts, and rightfully its most enduring song is “Are You There, Margaret? It’s Me, God.” This song makes the most effective use of the group’s newfound duet vocal styles, and one of their strongest choruses ever.

This very website named Oh! Calcutta! the finest album released between 2000 and 2009. Even Brendan Kelly himself named it their finest moment when asked to rank the band’s albums, , so if you somehow haven’t listened to it yet, before they drop their long-awaited new record, The Skeleton Coast.