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

The Lawrence Arms

Oh! Calcutta! (2006)

Fat Wreck Chords

I hold the Lawrence Arms' Greatest Story Ever Told in very, very high regard. I believe it was a landmark for the Chicago trio once dismissed by some as inept Jawbreaker rehashing, as it found their wit reaching an ultimate pinnacle with sly pop culture references (who would think to coin "Povichian voyeurs?"), a stunningly varied collection of songs (everything from the slow and deliberate "Raw and Searing Flesh" to its brutally melodicore followup in "On With the Show"), and a gorgeously designed, thematically excellent layout complimenting an album already soaking in sociological observation and criticism via left-wing literature references. This is why Oh! Calcutta!, the band's first proper full-length in two and a half years, seems as if a strange, backwards progression for the band, but also as one that comes as they've sharpened their melodies and found a new, catchier-as-ever aggression about themselves; thus, it's an excellent album in its own rights.

Initial observers of Calcutta! will notice a musical style that may appear to be, as some will call it, "Falcon-esque;" Brendan Kelly formed a side project known as the Falcon a few calendar rotations back, seemingly in order to exercise demons inside himself wishing to write simple, raw, and moderately poppy punk rock songs. What's ironic is that the Lawrence Arms deliver this in spades on Calcutta! However, as they carry with themselves the experience of a unit that has been together for years, the album yields the highest quality that can result from such a formula. "The Devil's Takin' Names" and "Cut It Up" are the first two tracks on Calcutta!, and both provide enough hooks dangling with the bait to prove just how compelling and memorable things can get.

While separate variation doesn't seem to be Calcutta!'s strongest trait, it manages to retain interest track in and track out because that variation is contaminated inside those songs. Most every song is upbeat and fast-paced, but quick injections of thoughtful, reflective chords sporadically twinkle in between Kelly's gravel foundation-laying and Chris McCaughan's newly off-key but emphatic and smoother complementing vocals.

Most notable is the loss of distinction between "Brendan songs" and "Chris songs." Both vocalists sing on every track, often in unison, which makes for a number of powerful, singable choruses, such as "Beyond the Embarrassing Style," which brings the band's famously drunken live show to the disc with a hazy, slurred chorus of "your life revolves like a carousel / your hopes are buried in a wishing well / awake in a grave that you dug yourself / 'just keep on betting on that horse you love." Lines like these adorn Calcutta! enough to prove that the band has not lost their lyrical touch, either.

The Lawrence Arms record a surprise of a record in Oh! Calcutta!, drawing from their deep past for a sound that begs the live recreation, but assisted with the experience they've gained through bottomless bottles and careful observation of themselves and others. It's certainly a more obvious interpretation of punk rock than their preceding effort, but hardly one that fans will complain about having to embrace.

The Devil's Takin' Names