Writing one perfect album is hard enough. But nine? Come on! Who else in the history of recorded sound has even dared reach such a milestone? Neil Young? Bob Dylan? Herb Alpert? Tiny Tim? Throw out greatest-hits packages, and you’ve got maybe HALF a decent album among them! No, the only band to have hit the nine-album mark without so much as a bum note is Denton, Texas’ Bowling for Soup. And there’s no debating those stats, so don’t even try!
As usual, Bowling For Soup’s ninth full-length, The Great Burrito Extortion Case, is the best album anyone will release this year. It’s got hits! It’s got hooks! It’s got hidden messages! Well, okay, it doesn’t have any hidden messages, but it does have something no other album of the past 10 years (or 20; was there even music that long ago?) has dared to offer. It has more undiluted HAPPINESS per song than should be legally allowed by law. Seriously, do you think Bowling for Soup called their summer 2006 tour “The Get Happy Tour” for nothing?
We know what you’re thinking: “Bowling for Soup is just some big, famous, Grammy-nominated pop-punk act; aren’t those bands all just way too happy for their own good?” Nice try, Einstein, but have you ever actually listened to those other bands? Didn’t think so! The Halloween hair, the woe-is-me lyrics, the melodramatic MySpace blogs… It’s no wonder so many of our children are on antidepressants. How else to survive a trip to the record store these days?
“We calculated it, and there are at least 12 verses’ worth of total joy for every sort-of-sad chorus about an ex-girlfriend on this record,” says singer/guitarist Jaret Reddick, who formed Bowling for Soup in 1994 and today rounds out the band with guitarist Chris Burney, bassist Erik Chandler and drummer Gary Wiseman. And Jaret should know something about calculating – he’s got two college degrees! Okay, so maybe he never did that well in math, but the point is, this is a man who understands the epidemic of sadness in modern rock music and is trying to DO something about it. Put THAT in your coffin and cry over it, My Chemical whatever-your-name-is!
Of course, to make the world’s happiest album, you can’t just put a few major chords together and slap a smiley face on the thing. You’ve got to do your homework – and besides knocking out the 2005 compilation of TV- and movie-theme covers Bowling For Soup Goes To The Movies, that’s just what Bowling For Soup did between their last proper album, 2004’s gold-certified A Hangover You Don’t Deserve, and The Great Burrito Extortion Case. For instance, did you know that Denmark is the happiest place on Earth? Seriously, some big-time British scientist even proved it this year. Well, guess who was on the case FIRST?!
“You mean someone actually put that s**t into a scientific formula?” Jaret asks incredulously. “Man, we only had to have our tour bus break down in Denmark to know it’d be the right place to make this record.” In fact, the band originally wanted to call Burrito’s happiest song “I’m Lykkelig” in homage to their stopover in the land of many windmills, but in the end, they wisely chose a more universal title. “See, ‘lykkelig’ means ‘happy’ in Danish,” explains Jaret, who also speaks Mandarin, Urdu, and the fictional Star Wars language Huttese, “ but as we looked back at the roots of the word ‘happy,’ we were able to trace it all the way back the 12th century, when it collided with the French gai to become, well, ‘gay.’”
Wow! Thanks for the etymology lesson, Jaret – but all YOU really need to know is that “I’m Gay,” as the song today appears on The Great Burrito Extortion Case, is the single happiest – no, make that gayest – song of 2006. It’s also a bona-fide anthem, and, yes, there will be tests on this stuff later, so commit those lyrics to memory and get GAY already!
Jaret estimates that, between trips to Denmark, Disneyland, and the certified-happy South Pacific Ocean archipelago of Vanuatu, Bowling for Soup spent at least nine months and 750 million frequent-flyer miles writing the more than 60 songs they’d eventually pare down into The Great Burrito Extortion Case’s glorious final 14. Largely self-producing the album at studios in Atlanta, Los Angeles and some kid’s house in Nanty Glo, Pennsylvania (“It just sounded like a happy place,” says Jaret), the band even invited self-help guru Tony Robbins for a vocal cameo, figuring he’d really push the album over the top into full-on zeitgeist-shaping motivational force. “Turns out he’d been contracted by some death-metal band from Florida,” Jaret recalls with some regret, “so I called up my friend Adam [Schlesinger] from Fountains Of Wayne instead. Same difference, really.”
And trust us: If you thought Hangover’s omnipresent hit single “1985” was ridiculously upbeat (English rock legend Richard Thompson even named it “one of the best songs of the past 1,000 years!”), it sounds like death metal compared to the Banana Splits-meet-Green Day vibe of Burrito’s first single, “High School Never Ends.” And if the RIAA thought enough of “Girl All The Bad Guys Want” (from 2002’s Drunk Enough To Dance) to nominate it for a “Best Performance Pop” Grammy in 2003, well, watch out, Junior: They’re gonna need to create a whole new CATEGORY to make room for surefire hits such as “Val Kilmer,” “Luckiest Loser” and, well… pick one!!!
Heck, it’s a testament to Bowling For Soup’s vision that even the bum-outs on Burrito sound happy! “99 Biker Friends,” a rollicking, sing-along statement on domestic abuse, finds the band and their so-named biker buds ganging up to defend a female friend’s honor. “When We Die” (co-written with producer/musician/sharp-dressed man extraordinaire Butch Walker), despite its bittersweet acoustic guitar, is the rare jilted-ex tune that makes the protagonist accountable for his screwups. And “A Friendly Goodbye,” one of many instant-classic F-off songs on the album, cleverly hides its dirty words in a string of clean epithets. In other words, kids, this stuff’s hotter than H-E-double hockey sticks!
Ask anyone who remembers Bowling For Soup before the band’s Jive Records days, when they were just a scrappy cult favorite handing out demos in the summer heat of Warped Tour, and they’ll tell you: For all the guerilla-style self-promotion these guys did just to get their music heard outside of the Lone Star State, they have every right to be cynical about the industry that’s finally embraced them. But for crying out loud, that’s just not the case – in fact, they’re happier than the Partridge Family these days!
Jaret explains: “This is gonna sound corny, but the thing that’s kept us psyched about playing music – besides all the free beer – isn’t fame or fortune or hit songs. It’s that we never lost that feeling of excitement we had the first time we sat down to write something together. You look at this band anytime from then to now, and we’re basically the same: just a bunch of fun, beer-drinking fan-boys from Texas who got lucky. The fact that we’ve been able to parlay that into something that makes other people happy is payment in itself.”
He burps, then pauses to reflect. “Between you and me, that’s the first time I’ve used the word ‘parlay’ since college.”