(23 March 2004, Fat Wreck Chords)
Of all the mistakes in my life, I think not discovering the Descendents sooner is the worst. Somehow they didn’t even make it to my Top 15 on the 15th list. But over the past few months this album has really grown on me. It’s the album that says all the things The Downward Spiral and Jar of Flies implied, but it does so without all the darkness and gloom. And it adds some really great melodies.
My punk rock education went the typical way, I guess. I’m an older millennial and my rock education began in the mid-nineties. I listened to Green Day and the Offspring like anyone else, but my interest in punk didn’t really go much deeper than that. Aside from the occasional Ramones or Sex Pistols track I was content to stay in my post-grunge/heavy metal bubble. Then a friend took me to see Bad Religion in 2010.I’d like to say that was a game changer for me, but that would be a lie. Sure, I liked the show and had a lot of fun; but the only song I recognized was the one Sublime had covered. It did however, pique my interest in Bad Religion enough that I was listening to them on Pandora and the title track of this album came on.
Hearing “Cool to be You” for the first time was a game changer for me. Usually I keep Pandora open while doing other things online, but this was enough for me to click back to that page to see what band this was. Then I went to Spotify to listen to the whole album.
Let me be very frank here: I am not a cool person. I don’t dress like a cool person, I don’t act like a cool person, I don’t drink like a cool person and I don’t think like a cool person. I enjoy reading so much that I want to be a writer. I haven’t had a girlfriend in nearly three years. I’m not ashamed of it. I mean, it is what it is. But that being said it would be nice if I knew enough other uncool people that I felt like I belonged. When Milo Aukerman sang the line “it must be pretty cool to know you belong,” I knew exactly what he was singing about. It’s a feeling I’ve had my whole life. I even tried the geographic cure once, but that just led me to empathize with the line “maybe I’ll move, and find a brand new place I don’t belong.”
Yes, I feel like this song was written about me. But that’s not true, which is why it’s so great to hear it. I know if someone in the prototypical pop-punk band is having these feelings, and the album sold enough copies to chart on the Billboard top 200 then I must not be the only one who feels like this. Which is something of a relief.
And those feelings don’t end on that track. Another one I keep nearly on repeat is “Tack” with the lines:
“Time for a new me
I hear they’re having a sale
I’m trading myself in
And I don’t care what I get for it
‘Cause I finally burned out
Been kicking myself
For way too long
Finally found out
What it feels like to be living a lie
Wasting my time, paralyzed
Wishing I was in another world”
And the rest of the album is awesome too. I always think of punk as dumbed down music because it’s basically just three chords played really fast with silly vocals, but when your singer is a biochemist in his day job it really opens you up to sing some really clever lines. “‘Merican,” is the greatest patriotic song I’ve ever heard. Instead of just screaming about how great this country is they throw in some lines about some of the awful things that have happened and explain, “you’ve got to know the truth before you say that you’ve got pride.”
I love “Dog and Pony Show” which compares the club/bar scene to a … well, a dog and pony show. Yet again I feel like I’d fit in well with these guys because of the line “it’s no place for a mongrel mutt like me, mating rights go to the best of breed.” “Blast Off” is a song not so much about rockets and space travel as it is about explosive farts and using the toilet seat as a launching pad. “Mass Nerder” is a song I could have used in high school. I’ve never been much of a fighter, but the sentiment that I could kick peoples’ asses in class by getting better grades may have been a strong motivation.
I always thought “One More Day” was just another sappy breakup song. I never really got into until I watched the Myage movie and learned it’s about drummer Bill Stevenson’s relationship with his father. When you realize it’s not a song about some nerd pining for an ex-girlfriend and is about longing for one more day with his dad it goes from lame throwaway track to tearjerker.
But a lot of the songs are just really simple love songs. My favorite is “Anchor Grill.” It’s about rekindling that old flame by dropping “the kids at your folks, and let’s go where it’s never too late for breakfast.” Much like the main characters in Parks & Recreation I can’t think of anywhere better to fall in love than over breakfast food.