Pez, Pez Me
Much can be said about the ska-punk revival of the mid-'90s, and it has -- from rock critics who think it's kitschy kid's stuff to older punks making fun of so-called rude boys who wear baggy skater pants (even if the first three letters of skate are s-k-a). But the one charge most levied -- that ska-punk was just a fad -- fell flatter than a blind stage-diver. And nowhere is that more apparent than in Gainesville, where Less Than Jake has been sticking to its ska-punk guns for the past 13 years, Lou Reed imitators and new-wave fashionistas be damned.
Ten years have passed since the release of Less Than Jake's first album, Pezcore. Sure, that might mean lots of Pez was consumed (or collected). But it also means lots of songs were written and recorded -- and, in some cases, abandoned. In fact, Less Than Jake's newest release, B is for B-Sides, is a collection of tracks that didn't make it onto Anthem, the band's latest proper album. Indeed, Less Than Jake has found a way to grow without growing up.
The songs on Anthem are fully indicative of the album's title, from the sing-alongy opener, "Welcome to the New South" to the choice cover tune that wraps up the 14-track disc, Cheap Trick's power-pop classic "Surrender." Though guitarist Chris Demakes and bassist Roger Manganelli trade off on vocal duties, it's the man behind the skins, Vinnie Fiorello, who pens the lyrics. On "Welcome to the New South," Fiorello knows who he's speaking to -- and he knows they're listening: "Welcome home outcasts/Because I know how you have/Felt over the years/The truth is that/Looking at me is like/Looking in the mirror."
Listen to the man, kids. Fiorello's been doing this for 13 years. He knows all that goes on at punk shows -- even among girls. The beat-keepin' bard lays it out in "She's Gonna Break Soon," an ode to teen angst that taps into the well of confusion that is adolescence. "She's been thinkin', wishin' she could hide/From the girls with the comments passing by/It's the boys in bars on Friday night/That replace the emptiness inside/She'll be spending her whole weekend/Faking laughs and faking smiles with her fake friends."
And in case the song itself doesn't drive the point home, the video stars Gilmore Girls' Alexis Bledel as the frenetic protagonist.
Ah, that's all fine and swell, says the jaded rock critic, but how can Less Than Jake's cover of "Surrender" be any better than the hack job they did on the Jam's "Modern World"? Well, you'll just have to listen for yourself, cool guy.
And if you're wondering what Less Than Jake's fixation with Pez is all about, just remember that one of the band's main influences is punk rock's unofficial spokesmen for caffeine -- the Descendents. And like the Descendents, such exaggerated product placement is done mostly for aesthetic purposes. Besides, Pez is a hundred times safer than that stuff Lou Reed used to put into his bloodstream.
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