I wish that I felt more comfortable masturbating at work"This line, which makes me cringe more than any other on Gorilla Marketing, is probably the one that best sums up what the album is all about. That's why it's so surprising how varied and consistently entertaining its music is. Like Missed the Boat, it is more enjoyable than the limited subject matter would lead you to expect, because the songs are played with impressive tightness and filled with wonderfully charming quirks.
Missed the Boat was a pop-punk album that followed the Descendents' tradition of being about stuff like TV, work, food and girls, but its madcap spirit gave it an edge that made it (in my opinion), a classic of the genre. Its sequel, Gorilla Marketing, appeared in 2008 with 16 more songs that tread the same ground subject-wise, but don't just sound like copies, because they find new ways to rock and amuse.
A lot of punk rock is admirable for being able to pack lots of humour, philosophy and/or story into less than three minutes. Gorilla Marketing goes one step further with songs that often don't even reach the two-minute mark, but are always able to say plenty, while punctuating everything with infectious hooks. This allows the album to keep itself interesting, even though it's pretty much about nothing more than being horny because you can't get a girlfriend and pissed off because your job sucks.
I appreciate the self-consciousness with which lead singer/guitarist Grath Madden writes his lyrics. "I wrote a couple of e-mails and a song about a girl...oh girl, yes girl, hey hey girl [...] dear girl, my girl, oh girl I wanna girl you girl" he sings in "Fuckmarket Pharmacy." Here, he's admitting that it's clichÃ© to write songs that bitch about girls and use the word "girl" in them way too much. By singing and writing about his need to so with such self-deprecation, Grath brings a cool post-modern quality to his songwriting.
The neat surprises don't stop there. In the daftly titled "(Nobody Wants to) Make Out (With Me Because I Wear Sweatpants)," which is one of the highlights of the album, there's a "Coolidge"-like bit of cute comedy when bassist Michelle Shirelle and second guitarist Ace get mixed up trying to trade numbers as they count together "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14...17, 18, 21, 23, oh shit!" Then at the end of the song they have fun with their drum machine by letting it sloppily spurt out a few out-of-place beats.
Another highlight is the delightfully sing-along-inducing catchiness of them spelling out Jessica Hopper ("Jay Eee Double Ess Eye See Ay, H Oh Double Pee, Eee Are!") in "Oh My Fucking Gosh." Equally memorable is the awkward moment when Grath's lyrics seem to freak Ace out in "Manhattan Boots," as he declares, "Manhattan girls, they make my dick sick...with envy directed at those girls' boyfriends." Instead of singing, Ace flatly replies with an uncomfortable, "oh my gawd."
Maybe the biggest surprise is that even with all this ingratiating silliness throughout the album, the band also proves able to play it straight just as effectively. Most of the anti-job/anti-girl songs are blatantly jokey, crude and hyper, but there are also songs that switch between slow and fast-paced and are earnestly tender or sad. "Oh Angela," for example, is genuinely moving without being melodramatic or killing the light-hearted vibe of the rest of the album. The reprise of the Unlovables-referencing line "feeling all emo since I ran out of weed" from their last album makes sure it's not all serious, but the rest of the song's lyrics are sincerely about the frustration of feeling like you're just wasting time in life worrying about money, work and blown opportunities, while dreaming that a girl things didn't work out with in the past might come back and make everything better (at the same time knowing that will never happen).
"It's My Hair" is a more frenzied portrait of a life full of stress, chores and dreams of escape to a better situation. It benefits greatly from being one of the few songs in the Steinways' catalog to put Michelle's vocals front and center. Her appealingly tough, yet girlish voice complements Grath's beautifully and helps drive the song forward with speed and conviction. The lyrics may be melancholy, but it's easy to overlook their sadness when the music is so kooky as it starts with a goat bleeting and ends with someone blowing a raspberry. The last surprise is the closing instrumental called "The Internal Cowboy" (a sly jab at Against Me! perhaps?), which borders on touching with its half-gloomy, half-hopeful melody.
I remember reading an interview with Billie Joe Armstrong circa 1997 that asked him how it felt to be called 'the voice of a generation.' "More like the ass of a generation!" he answered. Anyone who finds the 20-somethings a tough period in life largely because of stress related to jobs and women should find Grath Madden as worthy of that title now as Billie was in the `90s. That's why I'm so disappointed that the Steinways broke up this year. I guess we can at least take comfort in the fact that they 'retired' at the top of their game. Maybe Grath's new band Houseboat will continue the increasingly vulgar, while endearingly sympathetic musical journey started by the Steinways. With this album, he earns my personal (complimentary) pick for "ass of a generation," and a great ass at that. Here's hoping he finds a girl who thinks the same...but in a sexual way. Too.