Apparently, their new album, Nobody Likes a Winner (2007, Get Hip), was indeed a winner, if I was to believe press quotes, included in the e-mail, from the likes of Alternative Press (four stars), All Music Guide (4 1/2 stars), Harp and Trouser Press. Then I saw that Scott McCaughey, he of Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5 and R.E.M. fame (and close friend of our friend Robyn Hitchcock), was a guest on the album. My curiosity was piqued, so I wrote him back asking him to send me a press kit with a copy of the CD.
When the package arrived, I opened it and perused the contents, as I normally do. Then, I saw it. Reading the bio, I realized that Ed Masley's previous band was Pittsburgh's Frampton Brothers.
I kinda freaked out.
Probably 10 years ago, I had a nightmare--an honest-to-goodness, wake-you-up-in-a-cold-sweat bad dream. I was trying to escape a guy who was chasing me with a gun; I ran into a supermarket, thinking I could hide out in the aisles. This led to a fevered chase inside the store, a cat-and-mouse game in which I was being hunted by my deranged pursuer, all under the surreal, blinding fluorescent lights of the supermarket. (It was a dream, so they were far brighter than your average Safeway.) I managed to outwit and outrun my nemesis at every turn before deciding to finally make a break for it. I ran to the front of the store, toward the automatic doors, but just as I got past the checkout stands, I looked up to see the bastard standing in front of me with the gun pointed directly at me. He fired one shot into my chest, and I woke up instantly.
It seemed so real that I actually felt my chest just to make sure there was no blood--despite the fact that I was lying in bed. The two things that stuck with me afterward: the feeling of terror upon being shot, and the name of the supermarket where my slumber-murder had taken place: Frampton Brothers. Which was located in Pittsburgh.
Now, some years before, I'd listened fairly regularly to a series of albums put out by the record label Pravda, in which contemporary bands covered songs made popular during the 1970s. They were packaged to look like those K-Tel compilations that were advertised on late-night TV, and each one had a few bands that we've all heard of to get us to buy the thing (Smashing Pumpkins, Uncle Tupelo) and a bunch of bands that most of us hadn't (Goober and the Peas, No Empathy). One of the latter, from 1992's 20 More Explosive Fantastic Rockin' Mega Smash Hit Explosions!, was the Frampton Brothers, who did a fine job covering "Indiana Wants Me." I never explored them any further, never even really thought of them, until that dream years later. But, as you can imagine, post-nightmare, the name was indelible upon my brain.
So, superstitious as I am, I approached The Breakup Society's CD with some trepidation. After a week or so of avoiding it, I loaded it into my car CD player during a drive back from Phoenix--and realized my silly ways. Nobody Likes a Winner is awesome.
It's near-perfect power-pop--catchy as hell but not cloying, with lyrics that are clever but not showoff clever--the sort for which I am a complete sucker. It's basically the variety of bubblegum pop that was all over the radio in the '70s, but played with louder-than-bubblegum guitars; and almost every song is about one of two things: love or revenge.
The first song, which hooked me from the get-go, falls into the latter category: "Nobody Likes a Winner" is one of the most infectious songs I've heard so far this year, a flawless combination of big, crunchy guitars, an earworm of a hook and lyrics that act as a primer on how to succeed while stepping on any toes necessary: "Nobody likes a winner, baby / Nobody likes a star / Nobody wants the most popular kid in class to go too far / 'Cause if you wanna succeed you gotta go full speed / ahead of everyone you're gonna need someday / on your way back down."
Subverting the cliché "our love will change the world," "The World Will Change Our Love" is a sweet little ditty that chronicles the many ways outside influences can destroy a relationship ("When the world is a drag and I'm drinkin' from a bag") until the redemptive last line: "Yeah, the world will change our love / if we let it."
On first listen, in "How Failure Saved Me From Myself," it sounds like Masley is reverting back to those clichés he loves subverting: "Save me from myself." Listen more closely, though, and you realize that what he's actually singing is, "Failure saved me from myself / Saved me from myself / Now I'm no threat to me."
Those are just the first three songs, and the quality is consistent throughout. If you've ever wondered why we haven't heard anything from Redd Kross for a while or lamented the fact that you were born too late to see Big Star in their prime, do yourself a favor, and go check these guys out this weekend. The Breakup Society are so good that they just may have reversed any residual psychological damage inflicted upon me by the Frampton Brothers.
The Breakup Society perform in the middle slot between headliners The Deludes and openers Sugar High, on Saturday, Feb. 23, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Things get underway at 9:30 p.m., and cover is a paltry $5. Call 798-1298 for more info.
If that self-titled album invited comparisons to the Cramps and Reverend Horton Heat, the new one sounds an awful lot like early Social Distortion, while avoiding the sound-alike curse. Most of the songs come at you at breakneck speed and feature choruses that are written to be chanted along with by fans. Singer Marty Muerto's voice occasionally recalls Glenn Danzig's, with equal swagger, even if it's less ominous-sounding and far more versatile. It's a voice that was made for this stuff.
There are still songs, such as "Smitty" and "Voodoo Doll," that trade in more trad-rockabilly tropes and include the reverb guitar you'd expect (guitarist Justin "Exxon" Valdez is on fire throughout the album, and the rhythm section--bassist Eric Eulogy and drummer Joel "Papa Bear" Dunst--have no problem keeping up); but the norm here is tracks like "Wasted on You" and "Pointing Fingers," which wouldn't have sounded out of place on an early-'80s American hard-core compilation. None of this seems like an accident, as the Brawlers even pay homage to that era via a cover of Dead Kennedys' "Police Truck." Mark another fine album on your Last Call Brawlers scoresheets, one that again seems like a natural progression from their previous release.
Last Call Brawlers celebrate the release of Pointing Fingers at The Hut, 305 N. Fourth Ave., on Saturday, Feb. 23. Wolfman and the Nards and The Deadtones open at 9 p.m. Cover is $4. For further details, call 623-3200.