Growing up, I watched Fuse like crazy. When I'd come home from school, I'd turn it on and let the block programming of music videos gently shape my tastes. It led me to Fall Out Boy very young with "Sugar, We're Going Down." Their sophomore album quickly led me to the record label Fueled By Ramen, the artists of whom I rapidly bought and listened to, all with dial-up! One such album I remember getting very frequent rotation is Cobra Starship's "¡Viva La Cobra!"
Disclaimer for all music fans (and absolutepunk.net users): i never grew up with Midtown, nor did I know who they were until several years after I became acquainted with Cobra Starship, so I have no memories of lead singer Gabe Saporta's previous pop-punk leanings. One other thing I should also mention about myself that applies to all the music I listen to: unless the lyrics are mind-numbingly bad, I am a sucker for a catchy pop hook, and "¡Viva La Cobra" has those abound!
Back in the day, I used to import songs with the f-word (friends) into Audacity and silence the brief usage so I could listen to songs with my f-words and family. Sometimes it would just be too much hassle, so it wouldn't get done. That added a layer of intrigue to certain songs because I'd only listen to them once or twice, usually through headphones. There are two such tracks on the record: "Guilty Pleasure," and "Smile For the Paparazzi." Despite not having heard the former very many times at all, it boasts a catchy hook that has stayed in my head since 2007. It and "The City Is at War," start the album off with a bang, but their energy and general catchiness are a bit misleading, as some of the deeper cuts fail to be anything more than an odd mix of dance-pop, pop-punk, and ironic dance-pop-punk-funk.
That said, nearly every song has a HOOK. I still hate the bridge of "Damn You Look Good and I'm Drunk," featuring V.I.P., and "Smile For The Paparazzi," is fun, but ultimately disjointed. However, the sheer amount of catchiness and pop talent (Some comes from Patrick Stump, who co-wrote and produced the album) presented is more than enough reason for me to still love it as much as I did when I was a kid. This is one that's going to stay on my iPod.
"The City Is at War"
"The World Has Its Shine (But I Would Drop It On a Dime)"
Way back in my Fueled By Ramen days, I went on a bender and purchased many albums from their acclaimed roster (that was also when I had nothing else to spend my money on, like food and cheap prostitutes*). I bought "Wonderland" by Forgive Durden and fell in love. That love was a gateway drug into their slightly older brothers, Gatsby's American Dream. After some research on which Gatsby's album I thought I would enjoy the most, I purchased "Volcano," their stellar 2005 effort.
Some quick background on me first. I have very completist tendencies. I buy every season of a TV show I like (yes, even in the age of Netflix and Hulu), and that all began with me buying every album by a band I really like. Starting with "Volcano," I quickly acquired the rest of the Gatsby's American Dream albums, and I recently revisited their very acclaimed sophomore album, "Ribbons and Sugar."
Gatsby's American Dream is notorious for their critique of the music industry and for their refusal (on early albums) to write choruses into their songs. "Ribbons and Sugar" deals less with these issues than later albums, and as a result, the lyrics are less pointed than future efforts. Staying true to their beliefs, there is only one chorus to be found on the album in the final track, "Counterfeit Language."
As a youngster, it was tough for me to wrap my head around songs without easy, digestible choruses or at least revisited themes. As it turns out, it still is! The album starts out very strong with "We're Not Orphans," actually one of my top ten favorite GAD songs. From there, however, the album starts to blend together a little bit for me. Tracks 3-7 do little to distinguish themselves from each other, save for number 5, but are still enjoyable. Especially noticeable because the middle songs are similar, the two breathers the album takes, "A Manifesto of Tangible Wealth," and "The Horse You Rode In On," have a strong sense of melody and distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack. Closing out the album with a punch is "Counterfeit Language," which boasts a chorus and quite the bombastic one at that.
The production on this album is crisp and clear, and Nic Newsham's voice sounds young and youthful; not quite as grating as he would appear on their self-titled album. Every band member is in top form on the album, especially new addition Rudy Gajadhar on the kit. The dude is a monster, and he never ceases to impress on this album and every one proceeding it. Though this is not my favorite Gatsby's album (that would be Volcano), I still enjoy a few select songs off it and can appreciate the effort and talent that went into crafting it.
"We're Not Orphans"
"A Manifesto of Tangible Wealth"
Back in the day, I saw the videos for “The Science of Selling Yourself Short,” and “She’s Gonna Break Soon,” and I really liked the straight forward pop-punk sound of the latter. I didn’t care for the ska leanings of the former, but I bought the album anyway, thinking I’d fall in love with it. I didn’t, and very few songs got any sort of rotation. But a few months ago, I dug this album back out, gave it a listen, and realized that my younger self was so, so, wrong about it.
It kicks off with “Welcome to the New South,” which is a decent song, but it really only serves as an intro. It doesn’t quite seem like a really realized track, but that is quickly forgiven when the next three songs are among the best on the album. “The Ghosts of Me and You,” “Look What Happened” (which appears in a re-recorded form, originally on Borders and Boundaries), and “The Science of Selling Yourself Short,” form the poppy backbone of the album. They are the glue that keeps interest in listening, even after a few sub-par tracks in the middle, which are just as raucous as the rest of the album, but lack the “it” factor and the strong lyricism presented elsewhere.
If Anthem starts out strong, the end really drives the point home. Starting with track 10, the band blasts through some thoughtful deep cuts that ultimately culminate in what can be considered an epic for a ska-punk band, “The Brightest Bulb Has Burned Out/Screws Fall Out.” The track takes listeners through quite the ride, though it is not my favorite from the final quarter. That honor goes to “That’s Why They Call It a Union,” a breakneck pace song that lyrically deals with divorce from the perspective of the child.
The lyrics are a strong point on this album, as common themes tie multiple songs together. Vocalist Chris Demakes deals with the deeper content, such as grappling with his stagnant friends, the “tragedies of minimum wage,” and divorce. It’s easy material to relate to for the average listener, which makes the songs connect just that much more.
All in all, I’m glad I found this album again. It’s my go-to Less Than Jake album to listen to, and it has inspired me to delve into their back-and-forward catalog, which offers some great songs as well. Though I was young when this album was realized, I can sense how this record acted as an Anthem to people of all ages. The production may someday date the product further, but the material and arrangements are timeless, and Anthem will remain in my rotation for many years to come.
Favorite Tracks: “That’s Why They Call It a Union” “The Ghosts of Me and You” “The Science of Selling Yourself Short”