The recent announcement of My Chemical Romance’s split will, I’m sure, see wine glasses filling with the tears of the mall-punk generation, of which your humble writer was a conscientious objector. In his seminal work Dispatches, Michael Herr wrote that “Vietnam is what we had instead of happy childhoods.” My generation, in a stark and probably fortunate contrast, had emo.
Or is it screamo? Post-hardcore? Pop punk? Alternative!?
Being a compilation of previously unreleased tracks, it would be a waste of time to judge this sub-album on cohesiveness or to even put it in any kind of context where it can be judged on its own merits as a whole. The band released the tracks two at a time as double A-sides each in their own fancy schmancy packaging. Thus, any kind of analysis one attempts has to judge the songs on their own individual merits.
And, if I’m being frank, the merit is rather lacking in these ten songs that the band recorded before their last album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. Yes, something is called that.
Far be it for me to shit on a band for being able to mobilise teen angst the way that MCR do. It certainly requires a degree of skill and a disciplined knowledge of your own strengths as a band. MCR do what they do extremely well. Singer Gerard Way in the role of damsel in distress is an act worthy of acclaim and the band are good at making equally neurotic music that compliment Way’s high school daydreams.
“If all my enemies threw a party / Would you light the candles? / Would you drink the wine? / While watching television?” The opening track “Boy Division” is a schizophrenic plea for help or salvation or something. A plea, certainly. “Say a prayer for California” sings Way in his snot-nosed melody. If there’s one thing music needs, it’s more references to California.
“Tomorrow’s Money” kicks off in perfectly enjoyable fashion. A Mudhoney meets surf rock track that edges you closer to the mosh with each bar. But as is the maxim with bands like MCR, you can’t have too much of a good thing. They continuously rob you of your good time to drop a staccato-rhythm chorus that no one asked for. But that’s to be expected when your influences start at Queen and end at Green Day.
Speaking of Queen, the opening of “Ambulance” is torn straight from the Freddie Mercury playbook, sounding almost exactly like “Somebody to Love.” This is quickly joined by more immaculately-produced ProTools-cued instruments. ‘You don’t know a thing about this life’, it announces. But what if we do? What then? What are your existential platitudes worth in change when they’re exposed to the light of an intellect that’s weaned on more than The Downward Spiral and Chuck Palahniuk? “The World is Ugly”, yet another illumination from My Chemical Romance.
Josh Homme once said that thinking of concept albums brings to mind two things: “pudding” and “fucking lame.” Much as I concur, I would amend that list to include a third thought: contrivance. Of course, you can’t have a concept without contrivance, but when it comes to music – you know that stuff where Mohammedan angels transcend the celestial planes and sweep you up from your bedroom floor to cradle you in the majestic bosom of the universe? – it’s a slippery slope. The narrative voice of the singer becomes highly suspect and you begin to wonder just which character he’s channeling in a particular song.
While you can’t have too much of a good thing, you can have a lot of a mediocre thing. “The Light Behind Your Eyes” proves this. Way stumbles ass-backwards into a metaphor he finds poetic and turns it into a nauseating litany without any recess for the listener to evacuate the bile that rises inside them.
Some might argue that I’m being harsh. Conventional Weapons is a fan release not intended to be listened to by anyone who isn’t already in possession of a black hoodie with the cover of Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge on the back. It’s not supposed to be quality. In that case this cash-grab isn’t only aesthetically abhorrent but also morally unsound. But that’s not even my issue. My Chemical Romance embody what Henry Rollins aptly called “musical miasma.” The guy at Subway doesn’t care about your sandwich and the girl at Starbucks doesn’t give a fuck about your coffee, they’re just trying to get through the day. My Chemical Romance are a band just clocking in but what’s worse is they try to hide it behind melodramatic, over-conceptualised dramatics, sweeping their shitty job under the rug.
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.