[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. With Against Me!’s White Crosses due June 8 and their
Records: Against Me!’s Crime as Forgiven By (2001) on black, “The Acoustic EP” (2001) on tan marble, and Reinventing Axl Rose (2002) on purple marble.
Place of Purchase: I had to pay a wee bit too much for Crime on eBay, but I got “The Acoustic EP” at a much more reasonable price when I saw the band open for Blood Brothers at the Starlight Ballroom back in… 2004? Axl Rose came from Siren Records in Doylestown. They used to host shows at their old location, and they’d give out 20 percent off coupons if you bought anything during a show. This, coupled with store credit and the frequent buyers club, has quincentupled my vinyl collection.
Thoughts: There are only three other contemporary punk bands I swear by as much as I do with Against Me!: Jawbreaker*, The Bouncing Souls, and, uh, New Found Glory. Wait, shit, and Less Than Jake, but they’re ska/punk, so whatevs. My point is, I love Against Me!. I love the tunes and the righteous fury and the shit-eating defiance. The band has changed quite a bit, as this month will surely show. Just look at Crime, the oldest AM! release in my record collection and, in my opinion, their first great album. The band was still a two-piece, just Tom Gabel and original drummer Kevin Mahon (who’s currently doing time in another excellent band, forgetters), and that’s all it needed for Gabel’s raw songs. We get some tunes that gestated into something greater on Reinventing Axl Rose (“I Still Love You Julie,” “Walking is Still Honest”) and some tunes that are perfectly giddy now (I’m talking of course about CD-only “Impact” and “Ya’ll Don’t Wanna Step to Dis”). The lyrics are more idealistic than the Gabel of 2010, as he muses about what it means to be part of the workforce. This early in the band’s career, Gabel was clearly already chafing under the “anarchist” label.
I dig Crime, but its two biggest drawbacks are that it’s pretty raw and some of the songs weren’t quite ready. I have no such complaints about “The Acoustic EP.” The band has taken grief for pursuing more layered production, but as “The Acoustic EP” and the “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” seven-inch show, Gabel’s songs (almost) always translate well to just acoustic guitar and vox. This EP again throws out some songs that would be cultivated for Rose (Actually, on the vinyl version, everything but “We Did It All For Don” ended up on that album), but it’s not a question of preferring one over the other this time. These songs are just that timeless. My favorite track, though, is “We Did It All For Don.” A love song to a wrecked van, I’ve always looked to it as a farewell to stages in my youth. People moving away. Graduations looming. Now I take the lyrics a lot more literally, even though my friends and I have never had to “live off the dumpsters if we have to / sell our blood by the pint to make rent.” But we’re still struggling to find that ever shrinking scrap of independence. Some days all I have is this chorus.
…and here’s the heavy hitter. Reinventing Axl Rose had been out for about a year by the time I picked it up. I was 17 and sick of punk rock’s rules. When you’re young, the music you like and the way you dress have to be maintained at all times, and for a guy who dug Our Lady Peace as much as The Ramones and rocked a goatee and an afro, that just didn’t work. I still liked the bands I liked, but AM! was the first significant punk find for me in maybe two years or so, which in teen-dom translates to like 100 years or some shit. Anyway, Rose reminded me how liberating the music could be once you cut through the bullshit. The folk half of the band’s folk-punk sound was already starting to fade, but the tunes got better. “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong,” a tribute to Gabel’s grandparents, and it rocks hard. “We Laugh at Danger (and Break All the Rules)” rocks even harder. It’s so much more defiantly upbeat than AM!’s later work, and it pains me to see it fading from the group’s set lists. More good spirits are on display in “Baby, I’m an Anarchist!” a tongue-in-cheek tweaking at liberals and anarchists alike. The song that perhaps best represents the band, though, is the title track. It’s about wanting a band that plays hard and loud every night with honesty. Having seen AM! several times live, I’d say that describes them well. Even when Gabel gets arrested for assault or starting a flame war with journalists, I still love his work. I have suspicions about White Crosses, but the guy’s given me too many great songs to ignore him now.
*I realize their last studio album came out 15 years ago, but fuck, man, have you heard “Accident Prone?” “Want?” Mo-fuckin’ “Chesterfield King?!”
...also the Lawrence Arms are good too. Just throwin' that out there. Wait, and Rancid too.