X – More Fun in the New World

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No, despite their determination to have more fun as per the mission statement in the title, they’re barely having any fun at all. In their previous albums, both vocalists sounded like they were having the times of their lives; watching a live video of the band shows Exene Cervenka shouting in the microphone’s general direction, instead of, well, singing to it. That’s no longer true—they sound like they’re trying their best at singing, but the problem is, like most punk vocalists, they’re singing is amateur at best, and would’ve been so much better if they embraced that fact rather than trying to hide it (as they did previous albums). And like their post-Los Angeles and pre-pure suckage days, More Fun in the New World has a couple of good moments, but not nearly enough to fill an album’s worth:

The Good:

1. I like opener “The New World” quite a bit, and it set a fairly high standard that the following tracks simply fail to meet, but that’s not because of the lyrics, for which other publications (allmusic, popmatters, RollingStone) put way too much stock in. The truth is, X have as much business as Jefferson Airplane did making political statements, that is to say, they had no business at all. I get that I’m supposed to hate Ronald Reagan’s guts, “The tears have been falling all over the country’s face / It was better before / Before they voted for what’s his name / This is supposed to be the new world,” but the band offer absolutely no solution to the country’s problems. Amazingly, in comparison, Jefferson Airplane did offer a solution: “Got to revolution!” but the lads in X just sort of complain about it. I get the feeling from the song that they’re the sort of people who complain about politics on facebook and have never shown up for a protest in their lives. In other words, the worst sort of people who are outspoken about politics. Not to mention the aforementioned problem about the singing; it’s not very clear at all.

But yes, I like the song despite the message, because the opening lyrics are cute, “”Honest to goodness, the bars weren’t open this morning / They must have been voting for a new president of something / Do you have a quarter?” / I said yes because I did,” the tangible hook and most of all, Billy Zoom’s great guitar riff which pushes the track straight through the finish.

2. First side closer “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” where they lament the elusive success (“The facts we hate / You’ll never hear us / I hear the radio is finally gonna play new music / You know, the British Invasion / But what about…”) is probably the best song here. It is practically a hidden gem, especially coming off a 5-song stretch of mostly run-off-the-mill punk songs (speaking of, why the fuck didn’t producer Ray Manzarek lend a hand on organs to boost them the way he did a lot on Los Angeles?). The song reminds me of Minutemen’s “History Lesson – Part II” a year later, in part because both are extraordinarily delicate songs in mostly-not-so-delicate albums, but mostly because this one namedrops Minutemen and that one namedrops X. While there might not be a meaningful mantra to be found in “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” nearly as good as “Our band could be your life,” or “Punk rock changed our lives,” there is the great way the song gets progressively louder and faster for its hook.

3. The ending of “I See Red,” which features D.J. Bonebrake smashing hubcaps around the studio room, one of two times that the band sounds like they’re having fun at all. It’s an idiosyncrasy taken straight from Ringo Starr tossing his drumsticks at the end of “Helter Skelter,” just stretched over thirty seconds of chaos.

4. The other time is on closer “True Love Pt. 2,” which takes the hook from “True Love”—really the only thing worth mentioning—and puts it over a disco beat. The band were destined to outgrow punk as soon as they had emerged, from the moment they chose to be inspired by the 50’s as much as they were inspired by the punk scene around them, and despite sticking around longer than it needed to, “True Love Pt. 2” shows that they might’ve done so much more in another life.

5. What Exene Cervenka does in the empty spaces of “Breathless.” A very good showcase of her vocals.

6. John Doe’s surprisingly affectionate singing on “Pour Girl.”

7. Err–that’s it.

—– —– —– —– —–

“Painting the Town Blue” is only noticeable because Exene takes way too many liberties with the melody. Not in a good way, either.

The rest is ordinary. Too ordinary for a band that was once so extraordinary.

B

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