The Lawrence Arms - The Greatest Story Ever Told (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Lawrence Arms

The Greatest Story Ever Told (2003)

Fat Wreck Chords

I have a confession. Even though everyone surely thinks of me as some sort of punk rock expert, with musical knowledge dating back through the ages, I didn't really get into the Lawrence Arms until their recent Fat debut Apathy and Exhaustion. Sure, I did get most of the back catalog as tuition and rent permitted, but I'm late to the game. Nevertheless, I had no problem naming Apathy... as one of my favourite records of 2002 and a definite turning point for the guys who made it.

So here we are, a little over a year later since that release, and the Lawrence Arms - or as they are affectionately known, the Larry Arms - have a follow up. And since they spent a great deal of time impressing us with their song-writing on that record, they've decided to up the bar and impress us with their gigantic book-nerd brains.

For one thing, they decided to base some of the record on an old Russian novel by Mihail Bulgakov, and then peppered the remainder of the lyrics with literary and pop culture references, from the (original) Incredible Hulk to Salinger to Kafka. And lest we not pick up the references, they've packed them into a beautifully illustrated booklet, complete with annotations.

So, at this point, you're wondering if I'm stalling and talking about all this college boy stuff because the record is a horrendous disappointment or something. Well, thankfully, it's not in the least. In fact, it's probably one of the best straight up punk rock records in years.

Musically, the band isn't fundamentally different from prior outings, it's still a three piece, with bassist Bren and guitarist Chris alternating vocals while Neil keeps the drums going. The band plays a brand of punk rock which seems to be squarely rooted in the midwestern states, as much Husker Du as Ramones. Mid-tempo, melodic, but certainly not poppy, and with a healthy dose of grittiness and likely a larger dose of alcohol. Of course, a "Dear You"-era Jawbreaker comparison wouldn't be out of place either.

Their mixture of intelligence and self-depreciating humour is a pervasive presence in the music on the record. Whether it's Chris' soft vocals on "A Wishful Pupppeteer", or Bren's rapid fire delivery on "The March of the Elephants", every note seems intelligently placed. While it took longer for some of Bren's songs to grow on me - like the phenomenal "Alert the Audience!" or the raw vocals on "On With the Show", they're among my favourites now. The band works with a simple formula, but manages to inject a great deal of heart and energy into it. While so many bands seem keen to avoid the "punk" moniker, describing themselves in all varieties of hyphenated words, it is incredible to hear a band that clearly knows that there is a great deal to wring from this genre, and consistently manages to push through every humdrum formula and burst through with yet another memorable record.