Posts Tagged ‘2002 Top 10’

Top Ten Albums of 2002: No Use For a Name – Hard Rock Bottom

Friday, June 13th, 2003

The Top Ten Albums of 2002

#9 No Use For A Name – Hard Rock Bottom

Hard Rock Bottom is a poppy CD with a fresh aftertaste, kind of like Colgate compared to Western Family brand toothpaste. Sure, the Western Family cleans your teeth, but it also makes your mouth feel like you’ve been sucking on an eighty-year old mint from grandma’s candy dish. NUFAN does the pop-punk thing, but they do it right.

I have their last album, Making Friends, but I wasn’t really too impressed with it. The drumming was monotonous (it was waaaay too fast; the bass drum sounded like the ticking of a hyperactive clock) and none of the songs really stuck in my head, except for the Celtic ballad “Fields of Athenry.” I pretty much gave up on NUFAN until I heard their song on Fat Music 5, “Let Me Down.” That song was awesome: the hooks, the harmonies, everything. Seeing them live at the Warped Tour this year convinced me to give NUFAN another go.

So when I heard about their new disc I decided to give it a whirl. Pleasantly, Hard Rock Bottom more than made up for the shortcomings of Making Friends. Yes, there are still some songs that have super-fast kick drum parts, but they share time with slower, more thoughtful songs, like the opening track, ‘Feels Like Home,’ which lacks percussio althogether. That first track is bare minimalism: just frontman Tony Sly’s voice and a clean electric guitar. It seagues into ‘International You Day,’ a somewhat cheesy song with poppy lyrics: “Without you my life is incomplete / My thoughs are absolutely gray.” Right, Tony Sly.

And therin lies my only real complaint about the album: the lyrics. Usually, NUFAN has some awesome lyrical lines behind their music, but there were some real stinkers on this album. For example, in ‘International You Day:’ “Nothing that I’ve tried is as simple as this line.” C’mon, a meta-reference in a love song? Another example, in “Pre-Medicated Murder”: “More times than five, I’ve been right here by your side.” Yuck. What does the number five have to do with anything? I have no extreme problem with the poppy songs, which dominate on this release, but some of those lines make me want to bang my head against a wall, and not in that ‘fuck society’ type of way.

But, aside from that minor quibble, this album rocks. The band was even brave enough to include an orchestra on the introduction to the aforementioned ‘Pre-Medicated Murder’, and an organ on the intro to ‘Any Number Can Play.’ That song seems to be a thinly-veiled attack on Top Forty Radio, which I’m all for. I could seriously see No Use next to Sum-41 or Blink 182, and I mean nothing bad by that. These guys have talent. They’d have to add a number to their name, though (maybe “No Use For A 412?”).

The standout track is definately the duet ‘This is a Rebel Song”, which is a cover of a Sinead O’Connor tune. Why didn’t Tony have the guts to sing this himself, though? Too shy to croon ‘I love you my hard Englishman,’ Mr. Sly? I’m being facetious, though. It’s a lovely number, replete with awesome harmonies.

Then there is ‘Insecurity Alert,’ one of those songs that reeks of post-9/11 sympathy. Those songs suck; I think America needs to get over what happened to those planes, instead of wallowing in musical sympathy. I actually like this song, though. It’s not whiny, nor is it filled with accusations of conspiracy. It asks us to question what happened — in a good way — and to question America’s reaction, especially toward the Islamic: “Set up the guillotine and televise the execution, we have to ask ourselves, ‘Can we feel safe?'”. That song is the only overtly political tune on the disc, and I’m glad for it. If I want a number of political songs, I’ll put in my copy of Underground Network.

This disc could definately become one of my favorites. Sure, some of the lyrics could have been written in a high-school creative-writing class, but others are purely brilliant (“And all the happy pills make her look like a cardboard cutout of someone I used to learn from”). The musicianship, although at times a little too fast, is interesting and a nice alternative to the all-too-happy sounding pop-punk camp. The harmones rival those of Bad Religion or Reel Big Fish, and the CD is exactly the right length: a little over half an hour. Just enough time to ride my bike around the neighborhood and harmonize with all the songs, to the bewilderment of passersby. And to me that’s the ultimate test of a band: do their songs make me want to sing along?

2002 Top 10 Albums #10: Ben Weasel – Fidatevi

Wednesday, June 11th, 2003

The Top Ten Albums of 2002

#10Ben Weasel – Fidatevi

Ben Weasel has always been known for being, well, a dick. He has a certain way with words in his lyrics that really pushes the snot out. His exploits on his own message board, deriding his fans, are legendary. So when I picked up this record, I expected a lot of snot. Instead what I found was a lot of heart.

It’s hard to imagine, but Ben has always been at least a little grown up. Screeching Weasel’s second-to-last album, Emo was filled with introspection. Some people say it’s their best record (I disagree, I think the more-upbeat Anthem For A New Tomorrow deserves that honor). Think of Fidatevi as its sequel, and this is one of the few rare instances when the sequel is better than the original. “Fidatevi” is apparently (I’m guessing here) Italian, it means “trust in yourself” and “trust in others.” Very uplifting words, but does this record manage to live up to its message?

This record has a confessional feel. The first words out of Ben’s mouth are, “I’ve got six guitars I can barely play and a questionable singing voice as well.” If anything were emo, this album would be it. Ben really has grown a lot since writing songs about Jeannie’s uterus. Perhaps unrestricted by having bandmates to satisfy, he delivers an honesty that you can feel. I get the impression that he’s put on airs in his previous records (sample: Television City Dream‘s “Count to Three”: “I’ve been styling since you wore short pants / Now I’m taking names and kicking ass”). All that is gone: there is no tough-guy posing, real or implied.

The music itself is at the same time punky and laid-back,. Perhaps the standout track, musically, is an acoustic guitar and piano cover of the Kinks’ “Strangers.” The guitars sound more clean than anything else bearing the Weasel brand. Matt from the Teen Idols supplies drums, and Danny Vapid plays guitar and bass and even sings a little bit of lead (“Indecision”). It’s kind of a family affair, but Ben’s touch can be felt all over the record.

Above all, this record is peaceful. It’s nice to know that agorophobic Ben Weasel, not afraid to spew hate at anybody who deserves it, can find a little peace. That means there’s hope for the rest of us. Emo is usually though of as staid, whiny music. Although Fidatevi occasionally approaches whining, it never quite gets there. It is an emo record, then, for those of us who can’t stand it: calm, honest, and emotional without being sappy or whiny. Fidatevi? Absolutely.