Smoking Popes - Destination Failure (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Smoking Popes

Destination Failure (1997)


What are some pop-punk CDs in your collection that you consider to be classics? Milo Goes to College? Death by Television? Punk in Drublic? Maybe The Young and Hopeless? Whatever your collection of pop-punk albums, Destination Failure will fit in and stand out.

Smoking Popes frontman Josh Caterer has the best voice in punk rock. Perhaps tied with Ted Leo and Nick 13, and probably someone else I'm not mentioning, the point remains that Caterer has a spectacular voice, and puts it to the test on Destination Failure.

A friend of mine who was new to the Popes' offered a primitive and undeveloped impression that actually works well for describing the band to someone who's never heard it: "sappy, romantic lyrics with electric guitars and the most beautiful voice I've ever heard." Of course, there is much more to the Popes' lyrical content than romanticism, but there's no doubt that Caterer and the band know how to write a love (or break-up) song.

In fact, in the first two songs alone, Caterer goes from writing sweet, affectionate lyrics in "Star Struck One" with "Nothing in my dreams / Could possibly have braced me / For the feeling that faced me / Just as I looked into your eyes for the first time" to the cold-as-stone, matter-of-fact break-up song "No More Smiles": "No more smiles / It's just teardrops falling to the ground / No one's around and I don't love you anymore / And I'm sorry about it / When did my heart change its mind? / It must have been during the changing of times."

Destination Failure was also released in the midst of a spiritual awakening for Caterer after a near-death drug overdose. After looking towards Buddhism and New Age Philosophy, Caterer found Mere Christianity by Chronic(what!?)cles of Narnia author C.S. Lewis and began to gain an interest in the faith. From that interest came "I Know You Love Me," that with a booming chorus and uplifting lyrics is one of the catchiest songs on the record. Caterer has also been a long-time fan of Jawbreaker and Jets to Brazil frontman Blake Schwarzenbach, and "You Spoke to Me" is a moving account of this affection and his personal experience: "I drove all the way from Carpentersville to see you here tonight / And it was worth it / You didn't play my favorite song / But that's alright / I love the new stuff too / I'm just glad I got to see you." "Paul" is one of the heart-wrenchers on Destination Failure, with the very believable theme of enduring an ex-lover's affection for her new man: "And when the sun is over Hong Kong / I can tell you where she'll be / Floating in a soft and lonely melody directly over me / Chocolate eyes at one time melting in mine / But not tonight / She'll say 'I love you, Paul.'"

If you're a Bad Astronaut fan, you've probably heard that band's cover of the Popes' masterpiece "Megan." A luscious melody coats the song's emotive lyrics that are worth quoting, but are relatively nothing without hearing Caterer's voice singing them: "Butter on a summer's day when I hear that name / A dream that never came true / Sat down on the tracks and waited for a train / To take me back to you / Somebody came and took my hand...I finally had to go / But Megan I just want you to know / I waited as long as I could."

My two favorite songs on Destination Failure are "Let's Hear It for Love" and "Pretty Pathetic," two songs about relationships that are equally heartbreaking given the right context. "Let's Hear It for Love" can be construed as either romantic or cynical: "Let's hear it for promises, something sealed with a kiss / Let's hear it for big mistakes that you just couldn't resist / Let's hear it for bucket seats / Let's try it like this / Let's hear it for letting someone totally ruin your life / Let's hear it for love." "Pretty Pathetic" is a knife twisted in the heart of anyone who's going through a rough breakup, and the story-like lyrics are reminiscent of the movie The Break-Up, which coincidentally takes place in the Popes' hometown of Chicago: "She used to call me 'Baby,' softly, sometimes / But if I dwell on those days too long, I feel like my life is over and that's no good / So let's move on / To the part where I begin to sense her distance / I panic and hold on tighter / That just makes it worse / How am I supposed to take it when she says / ‘This is something I'm going through, it's got nothing to do with you‘?"

By now in the review I'm tired of quoting my favorite lyrics, but there are plenty of other gems in Destination Failure, like "Capitol Christine," "End of Your Time," "I Was Right" and an orgasmic cover of the Willy Wonka classic "Pure Imagination."

Destination Failure is a masterpiece. Caterer's songwriting dives head-first into the core of humanity, and the music is as good as the best pop-punk you've ever heard. If you don't own it, get it. You will thank yourself after your first listen.