Rockin’ Thru the Aughts: The Year 2000 Pt. 5 – Punk, pop punk, and garage rock

Rockin’ Thru the Aughts is my revisit through the rock music I loved as a preteen and teenager. For a full list of what I will be covering (and have already covered) on this challenge, head over here.

First of all, apologies for this part of the challenge coming a week late. I took a short trip to Chicago and fully intended on working on this post during my trip… of course, that didn’t happen. Nevertheless, I’m back on the wagon!

After the dreary ineptitude of the previous week’s albums, I’ve decided to take things in a bit of a different direction. While many albums from countless genres emerged from the 2000s, it is widely assumed that this decade is where pop punk had its peak. While such a case can certainly be made for the middle of the decade, what about the first year? The garage rock revival was also pretty big in this decade too, so I’ll cram that into here as well. We’ve already gotten an example of 2000’s pop punk – which wasn’t very good – so now’s a good time to check out what the rest of the year has to offer. Well, at least based on what I played in my library back in the day. Keep on readin’!

Stomping Ground – Goldfinger

Goldfinger were yet another band whose presence was very much a non-factor in my listening habits growing up. Much like Flogging Molly and Papa Roach, there wasn’t much about Goldfinger that I found feeling strongly about as a teen. Their biggest single “Here in Your Bedroom” definitely made its rounds in my iPod and “Superman” will always holds a certain nostalgia to me for its usage in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (which I played often). Nonetheless, I always saw them as just sort of an okay band – one toward which I never really put all that much thought (this will probably be a consistent theme going forward with this project).

And even with as little mind I had paid this band for their third-wave ska material of the 90s, I gave even less of a damn for their later straight-forward pop punk material which all but abandoned these origins. I think you can guess which category today’s album fits in. For the most part, Stomping Ground follows two major themes from song to song: aggravated flexing and boasting aimed at some unknown third party (“Pick a Fight”, “The End of the Day”, and Bro”, for example), or post-breakup moping and commiserating (“Carry On”, “Don’t Say Goodbye”, “Counting the Days”). Nothing here is particularly ground-breaking in its sound or its lyrical structure – and yet somehow, the album as a whole is a pretty decent listen.

Much of this is due to the undeniable chemistry balanced between each of the band’s members. Although lead vocalist/guitarist John Feldmann has certainly seen better days, the most consistent performance is from drummer Darrin Pfeiffer, whose energy throughout this album is so damn admirable. Where this album tends to excel is in its hooks. Although the lyrics aren’t the strongest, I can’t deny that I had the melody of “Pick a Fight” stuck in my head for quite a while after it ended. Additionally, “Counting the Days” is probably the strongest example of their style when done right – juvenile and silly in its lyricism, yet catchy and oddly charming nonetheless.

Still, not everything is great. While there are more than a few perfectly fine pop punk tunes hidden away here, these are sadly undercut by an assortment of poor decisions. “End of the Day” is clumsy and confused in its structure, choosing to sample Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” for no apparent reason. “Bro” is initially enjoyable in its lampooning of hardcore punk clichés, but it very quickly gets obnoxious. “Forgiveness” is one of the tighter cuts that nonetheless rides with the “turn the other cheek” advice that is truly tiresome. Also notable is the cover of “99 Red Balloons” – unfortunately, it is the English-language version which, as I noted elsewhere, is inferior to the original German version.

Overall, I see no reason not to recommend this album to someone looking for some perfectly decent, passable pop punk – but amazing, this is not.

Best tracks: “Pick a Fight”, “Counting the Days”

The New America – Bad Religion

Bad Religion is one of the oldest bands I have covered on this challenge so far (beaten only by The Cure). To be honest, I never quite got into much of the band’s earlier stuff as a teenager – sure, I owned a copy of No Control which I gave a spin now and then, but I mostly gravitated toward their more pop punk fare of the 90s and 2000s. Even with my limited experience, though, there’s no denying how different the sound in The New America differs from their earlier, more hardcore punk tracks – every track here is far more polished, with the melodies given center stage, along with more refined, personal lyricism.

Yet even without the rough, rawness that defined much of their early music, there’s still a lot to enjoy here. One of my favorite elements of Bad Religion’s music has always been Greg Graffin’s vocals, and his performance throughout this record is totally impassioned despite what he might be singing about. Greg Hetson’s guitar work and Bobby Schayer’s drums are also undeniably good. I was actually the most shocked to realize that this album was produced by none other than Todd Rundgren! Not quite the name I would connect with Bad Religion, that’s for sure.

My one major complaint would be with the tendency for certain tracks to sound almost indistinguishable from one another. “It’s a Long Way to the Promise Land” and “New America” are the most obvious culprits, with similar tempos, identical lyrical themes, and the exact same “whoa-oh” vocal hook in the chorus. Numerous songs on here also seem to struggle with putting across its messages effectively, and much of the blame can be placed on poor production decisions. “1000 Memories” attempts to deal with the topic of divorce in a moment of personal reflection, but it’s hard to take it very seriously when it’s backed by peppy, excitable drums and guitar that undercut its very real emotions. Additionally, “I Love My Computer” is such a dated embarrassment of a filler track, with awkward robotic voices accompanying verses with lines like, “I love my computer, you’re always in the mood / I get so turned on when I turn on you”.

Still, all of these flaws can be forgiven by the performances that the band members give from track to track. Every song on here (well, except for “I Love My Computer”) is embellished with a particular kind of pop punk energy that is just so infectious, you can’t stop listening. For me, at least, the centerpiece is “A Streetkid Named Desire”, which combines this atmosphere with strong melodies and lyrics that could be fiercely relatable for any punk kid trying to find their place in the world. I loved listening to this track as a kid, and I still love it today, holding onto its testament as one of the strongest tracks in Bad Religion’s whole repertoire.

Best tracks: “You’ve Got a Chance”, “A Streetkid Named Desire”

The Ever Passing Moment – MxPx

MxPx were yet another band that never left much of a blip on my radar, but I did have acquaintances in middle school and high school that were into them. My understanding of them was that they were more of a tamer sort of pop punk band – the kind that never cursed in their lyrics, played by most conventions of pleasurable music, and were generally safe to listen to around parents. I tended to opt for more of the harder, angstier stuff during my teen years, so they mostly flew right by me. Nonetheless, I did at one point have “Responsibility” sitting in my music library at some point – which means I gotta review its album. Those are the rules!

Basically, all of my initial hunches from when I was younger turned out to be generally correct. I just barely found out that MxPx are oft classified as a Christian band, and while I didn’t really get any of the spiritual vibes from any of these songs (except “It’s Undeniable”, mildly) the sound of the band definitely exemplifies the type of candy-coated naivety I often associate with Christian rock. It’s not that the themes at play aren’t universal – rather, I can only see them being relatable for a very distinct age group. For example, the big radio song from this album “Responsibility” states, “Responsibility – what’s that? / I don’t want to think about it; we’d be better off without it”. I sure wish that were even a modicum of an option in adulthood…

In all seriousness, though, the first thing I noticed from this record was just how infectiously positive so many of these tunes came off as. It certainly is a bit of a refresher coming off the heels of Chocolate Starfish. Moreover, this level of positive energy is carried from song to song in a remarkably consistent style and structure. Literally every song is an mid- to high-tempo slice of pop punk, carried primarily by Mike Herrera’s bass and vocals, as well as Tom Wisniewski’s prominent guitar work. And yes, the juvenile nature of these lyrics are certainly part of the appeal. They point to a simpler time when pop punk didn’t need to change the world – it just needed to be fun to hear live.

The consistency is admirable, but the problems start when it starts to seem like the guys are simply playing different versions of the same song again and again. Thus, the personality of each track feels flat and muddled after a while. There’s a lot here to like and appreciate, but not very much to love. Nonetheless, I can acknowledge that this album probably just isn’t for me. While my music preferences in high school often lay in the dark, dreary side of things, I’m sure these songs meant a lot for kids who really desire a solid pick-me-up. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

Best tracks: “My Life Story”, “Responsibility”

Veni Vidi Vicious – The Hives

Even though I wasn’t all that aware of The Hives until the release of their next album, I also had a few earlier tracks from this album swimming around in my library. The revival of garage rock was also getting pretty huge in the 2000s, and this album was one of the spearheaders of this particular movement. The credibility of this revival is eternally up for debate, but there’s no denying that it did grant us some pretty damn good music. Even though I didn’t get into many of the other garage rock revival bands of the aughts until after high school, the rough, rawness of The Hives (and the band with which I’ve always confused them – The Vines) have always appealed to me in ways that a lot of contemporary radio rock bands never quite did.

To put it bluntly, this is a damn great sophomore record. Running at just under thirty minutes in total, it’s an absolute tour de force of ragged, rowdy rock goodness. The closest and most obvious comparison is to the 60s garage rock band The Sonics, to which the Hives are obviously attempting to pay homage (take a listen to their 1965 album Here Are the Sonics, for a good example). The sound of the band is heavily carried forward by the distinct vocals of Pelle Almqvist and the ear-grabbing guitar work from Nicolaus Arson. Sure, the songwriting might falter here and there, but maybe that’s also part of the attempt to recapture the authenticity of classic garage rock. In any case, it’s pure dynamic tension and release from start to finish, and it’s a real blast to listen to.

Yet even though their higher tempo cuts like “A Get Together to Tear It Apart” and “Outsmarted” are delightful bursts of punch-in-the-face energy, I find myself personally favoring their slightly slower, more polished tracks which really demonstrate their strengths. In songs like these, their riffs are consistently sharp and the tracks as a whole are undeniably catchy. The one outlier is, of course, “Find Another Girl”, which opts for a tropical, synth-laden sound that, while pleasant, really sticks out like a sore thumb in the context of the whole album.

From that point on, the tail end of the album tends to blend into each other from track to track – which really isn’t a bad thing, since it’s the same kind of powerful vibes we’ve already been used to. Ultimately, this record makes me nostalgic for this early time in the decade when rock bands weren’t afraid to look far backward for inspiration. It’s something that comes few and far between these days, and while that observation may end up dating this album, I’d say it’s all for the better. Check this out!

Best tracks: “Die, All Right!”, “Main Offender”, “Hate to Say I Told You So”, “The Hives – Introduce the Metric System in Time”

All Hands on the Bad One – Sleater-Kinney

Sleater-Kinney are such an amazing, unique, totally terrific band… and I so wish I had known more about them when I was in high school! Indeed, my knowledge of Sleater-Kinney was limited to only a few songs here and there, which often got scrambled up in the mess of whatever else I was listening to at the time. While I can’t think of any concrete reasoning behind this, I’m sure I would have gotten way more into them had they been played more on the radio stations I frequented. I opted more toward the alternative rock, hard rock, classic rock, and metal stations, whereas I first heard of Sleater-Kinney through some chance encounters on the indie rock station, which I never frequented as much.

“You’re No Rock ‘n’ Roll Fun” was one of the first tracks from the group that I had ever heard and I was always charmed by how different it sounded from anything else. Of course, much of the distinction of this song, as I first heard it, is that it is headed by three totally badass ladies. All three members of the band – vocal/guitarists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss – bring their A-game to the track and the results are an awesome fireball of attitude. Lyrically, though, it’s much smarter than I think I understood back in the day. It’s a fierce kiss-off to the snobbish, hedonistic male rock stars that plague the industry like a disease. It’s a problem that few male-led bands are willing to admit, so having it so front-and-center like this is… so refreshing.

Of course, All Hands on the Bad One is just as fiercely feminist in its entirety as this introductory track would suggest. Not that I wasn’t already convinced when I listened through the band’s entire discography a couple years ago, but revisiting this certainly helps. Through slickly intertwining vocal melodies and sharp, powerful guitar hooks, Sleater-Kinney emits their consistently smart lyricism with equal parts bitterness and groovy fun. And it bears emphasizing that Corin Tucker’s vocal delivery is the best thing ever, and shades each track with a healthy portion of vibrant personality unlike anything else.

Though, it’s not like this album was in need of that as, once again, Brownstein and Weiss are fabulous in their own rights. There really isn’t too much more I could say about this one – it’s all the best parts of the riot grrl scene collected in a slightly more polished package that, nonetheless, doesn’t hamper its quality. I couldn’t be happier revisiting this album for this challenge – it’s easily the best album I’ve found from the year 2000 so far and I couldn’t recommend it any more highly.

Best tracks: “The Ballad of a Ladyman”, “All Hands on the Bad One”, “You’re No Rock ‘n’ Roll Fun”, “Was It a Lie?”, “Milkshake n’ Honey” (they’re all great, though)

De Stijl – The White Stripes

And now for the second of four bands that made up the aforementioned garage rock revival of the aughts (I’ll talk about the other two later on in the challenge). It should come as no surprise that The White Stripes comprised a good chunk of my listening habits as a preteen and teenager. I was in my teens when the band reached the height of their commercial peak, and I do remember being a pretty huge fan of their sixth and final album Icky Thump (though I have no idea how well it holds up). Still, I had somehow never given a listen to their earlier stuff until this challenge, so it’s about time that I dive right into their sophomore album, De Stijl.

(I doubt that anything Jack White has ever done and ever will do will be as good as his bit on Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story… but I digress)

There is a lot to admire here, in particular the ways that the duo do a whole lot with so little. In comparison to their later stuff, which would get denser and more complex in instrumentation as the years went on, these songs are composed of just a few basic elements: Jack White on guitar and vocals, Meg White on drums and percussion. Nonetheless, each song carries on a life of its own, whether it be through strong electric blues influence or production more akin to the 60s garage rock or folk rock movements. This is best exemplified in their track “Apple Blossom”, which carries itself with a traditional-sounding melody and a strong, pronounced rhythm, even throwing some piano into the mix. It is also the one track that makes the best use of Meg White’s drumming, which tend to be watered down through the album in comparison to Jack White’s contributions.

And that goes right into what I consider to be a major downside to this record: Jack White’s writing. A good portion of the songs on this album have at least partially to do with (a) a woman in turmoil (or dead), or (b) a man whose life is inconvenienced to some degree by a woman. The album doesn’t ever delve into anything explicitly sexist, but songs like these are steeped in male entitlement that just take me out of the overall vibe of this record, if slightly. The fact that I am aware that the Stripes would go on to make much better music does help this go down a bit more smoothly, though. I guess I would recommend this album to anyone interested in hearing the humble beginnings of this soon-to-be-huge duo – it really is intriguing! Still, the musicianship would only improve from here, so let’s keep our chins up.

Best tracks: “Hello Operator”, “Apple Blossom”

From this point onward, I hope to make these posts more consistent and on time. Five weeks in and I’m still having a good time, which is very promising! Next week, I’ll touch upon records from the more metal side of things – considering that I listen to considerably less metal music nowadays, this will be interesting to revisit. Thanks for reading, once again!!

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One Response to Rockin’ Thru the Aughts: The Year 2000 Pt. 5 – Punk, pop punk, and garage rock

  1. Pingback: Rockin’ Thru the Aughts: The Year 2000 Pt. 9 – All the rest | Films Like Dreams, Etc.

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