Les heritiers des Clash et de Springsteen reontrent le producteur du 'Nevermind' de Nirvana.The last year or two has been rough for Against Me! fans; sometimes I feel like "apologists" would be a better word. AM! signed to a major label after years of staunch DIY-ism (oh nos!), released a well-produced record (where are the pickle buckets? Oh nos 2x!!), put out a few music videos that ranged from OK ("White People for Peace") to deeply, deeply shitty (those attractively dressed kids from "Thrash Unreal" can rim me), and toured with some strange bedfellows (Serj Tankian, Mastodon, Sage Francis in the last year). This month, the group re-released last year's New Wave, that major label record that every dang body either loves or loathes, on French label Fargo Records. Giving the French something as special as five bonus tracks is treason in my book, but the AM! men saw fit to let us Yanks track down the rerelease via mailorder, so my mercy is quick.
I'm not going to bother with a track-by track breakdown of New Wave's original 10 songs, even though I love the album and am disheartened by Punknews's review of it. Two stars is a travesty, especially since the reviewer, Justin, seems to have pretty good taste in music. Dude digs the Menzingers, the Weakerthans and the Gaslight Anthem. Surely he is the sort of person who should be teaching our nation's children about love and burritos.
But I would like to say the following before moving on: Sire, home to such not very punk acts as the Ramones, Richard Hell and the Voidoids and the Replacements, may have coughed up the corporate cash to pay for New Wave, but I don't care. The intolerant punk stream pushed Tom Gabel out and he pushed back by making his band bigger and broader. I hope every close-minded crusty-ass motherfucker hears these tracks and realizes that his and/or her former favorite punk band isn't writing punk songs anymore and couldn't care less about it. Take in the jammy tides of "Ocean," the dramatic balladry of "Bourne on the FM Waves of the Heart," the slow burn of "Thrash Unreal." They're all incredible.
Butch Vig lent a deft touch to these recordings, layering the fuck out of the songs and making a remarkable, to-the-point modern rock record. For the band's part, they're still doing what they've always done -- writing about politics and the music industry and drugs and girls. Their lives, basically. So while Justin may feel that the album is "frustrating" and "smug," all I hear is nine great-to-amazing catchy rock tracks and one goofy-ass grinder (I may be a superfan, but I'll call bullshit on "Animal").
And now finally, finally, finally onto the B-sides: three out of the five ("Gypsy Panther," "Full Sesh," and "You Must Be Willing") already saw releases on the limited seven-inches for "Stop!", "White People for Peace" and "Thrash Unreal," respectively, but it's nice to have all of them together in one place. "Gypsy Panther" is the most immediate of the B-sides. New Wave played it safe, minus "Animal" and maybe "Ocean," by going for steady rock songs, and I can't help but feel that, had "Gypsy Panther" replaced "Animal" or a lesser cut like "Piss and Vinegar," the record would have been even better. Gabel has written a fair amount of songs about being in a band, but most of them tend towards the negative aspects, like angry fans and corporate temptations. "Gypsy Panther" captures a more even-keeled angle, though, regarding the touring lifestyle. "Coming home feels like surrender," Gabel sings, but at the same time he finds it hard to stay in one place. Throw on top self-doubt about rallying change ("Did you think the world would bend for you? / Did you think that you could really change yourself?") and some tasty 16-note drum measures from percussionist Warren Oakes, and you've got a much more satisfying song about the music biz than "Stop!" or "Piss and Vinegar." It's cathartically right up there with "Even at Our Worst We're Still Better Than Most (The Roller)" for me.
"So Much More," which is available for streaming on the band's MySpace, continues the band profile approach. Its recording is a little on the overproduced side, so I can see why it might have been left off, but the gist of the song -- it's only rock ân' roll, but Gabel likes it -- is affecting. That Gabel could write a Replacements-style song that essentially says he doesn't care how many fans come and go without being a prick about it is a bonus too. The real surprise, though, is that Gabel not only wrote a pop-rock song, but wrote a damn good one at that.
"Full Sesh" is a slow-churning, sludgy groover like "Animal" but without the tediousness. The guitars snarl and the drums pound, but bassist Andrew Seward is the one who sounds the coolest. His bass grinds everything else in the chorus, sounding ominously cool. When Gabel sings "You cannot match determination like this," I really just think of Seward's head bouncing up and down as he beats his instrument.
Track 14, "Untitled" is a quick ode to the artists that have inspired Gabel as a writer. While it's a catchy tune, its brevity keeps it from developing too much. Still a nice addition, though. "You Must Be Willing" closes out the CD. Haunting vocals and twinkling piano accompany Gabel's idea for all to know life in totality -- "a volume that cannot be denied," "an emotion that you cannot fake" and "greatness unanimously acknowledged." It's vague in its attempt to sketch out how to find such euphoria, but that's the beauty of an idea -- there's plenty of ways to reach satori.
Against Me! is my Clash, my righteous call to arms. Gabel is every bit as conflicted about going mainstream as Joe Strummer; whether or not he can reunite his personal beliefs with his business practices like Strummer did is yet to be determined. He's gotten a lot more isolated from his audience; his stage banter is nearly nonexistent when he plays Philadelphia now. Or anywhere. But these new recordings are like a conversation with him, which I love. On a track-by-track evaluation, I can see why each of these B-sides didn't make it on to New Wave. But when presented as a whole, it's interesting to think what would have happened had an entire chunk of the record been swapped. The result would have been a much more challenging album, one that strayed even further from punk stereotypes, and I'd love to see Against Me! pursue that style on Sire LP #2.