Monday, October 31, 2011

Screeching Weasel - First World Manifesto

Well if this album isn't just a punch to the face after you've just thrown some ice at the band!

Okay, I've gotten my bad joke out of the way.

I think I've made it clear how much I like Screeching Weasel circa 1988-1994. Outside of that short era, I don't really care much for them. I guess Television City Dream was an okay album, but overall their Fat Wreck albums just sound too produced with Ben's vocals getting incredibly whiny sounding in direct contrast to his usual flat style of singing a la Fat Mike. The songwriting supposedly got more "introspective" but I don't think that it was really a step up or a step down from songs like "The Science of Myth."

First World Manifesto continues in the style of those latter day Screeching Weasel albums, although there is also some clear influence from Ben Weasel and Danny Vapid's time as the Riverdales- which is to say that it sounds exactly like the Ramones if they had fronted the band instead of Joey. It's nothing awful per se (although I've seen some choice words about the band ever since Weasel's SXSW incident), but it's nothing really inspiring either. Musically the band hasn't really changed despite their time apart and the lack of lead guitarist John Jughead, so if you've listened to a Screeching Weasel album that came out between 1996 and 2000 then you know what it sounds like. It's cool that they're sticking to what they know but there isn't even a weird out-of-place experimental track to show some sort of progression.

The most interesting thing about First World Manifesto is the lyrical matter. There's the standard fare like songs about girls (Creepy Crawl, Three Lonely Days) and songs about insecurities (Totem Pole, Bite Marks) but unlike other Screeching Weasel albums, First World Manifesto was released in a day and age where Internet shit-talking is the norm- and Ben Weasel has had his fair share of dishing out and taking Internet criticisms through the past few years. And now some of his responses have taken musical form. The opening track, Follow Your Leaders, is a vicious attack on modern punk rock which had tendencies to lean toward the political left and hold several day-long festivals- two things, among others, that Ben clearly has a problem with as evidenced from the lyrics (and yet the band still agreed to play at SXSW).

The admirable thing about Ben Weasel is that he knows that people hate his holier-than-thou attitude, and by extension hate him too, but he doesn't let it up. In some ways, it's kind of obnoxious and I think that's how most people see it. But like I said, it's also kind of admirable that he knows that people call him an asshole and he acknowledges their insults but then still continues to be an asshole. The biggest problem is that I'm not sure if Weasel realizes that he's doing it. If he does, then tracks like the album's closer, Little Big Man, are kind of funny and satirical- poking fun at himself as well as the people who talk shit about him. Specifically the line "But if you cross me then I'll shake my fist/and tell the internet about it/I'm a big man"- Weasel could very well be talking about himself. However, given his attitude concerning recent events, I do not think that it is the case and he truly believes that he's a victim of some snot-nosed kid in a dark basement. When looked at from that perspective, it only makes the song better because it adds a whole level of irony that's lost on the songwriter himself.
I do enjoy the simplicity of the cover a lot.

If Ben ever reads this, I'm sure to be the subject of a song on his next album. I think that would be kind of cool though, so I'm not going to complain.

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