Jason Cruz - Vocals
Jim Cherry (R.I.P) - Bass
Rob Ramos - Guitar
Jake Kiley - Guitar
Jordan - Drums
This album was released on premier punk label Fat Wreck Chords two years after 90s punk went worldwide, to large underground success. This was Strung-Out's second full-length album, and is a showcase of the development of their sound leading up to 1998's "Twisted By Design" on which their metal influences became more apparent. This album however, while featuring the odd metal-influenced moment, is mainly pop-punk, albeit original and a million miles away from the crap that gets filed under pop-punk these days (I'm looking at you, Good Charlotte!).
The production is STWB stands out well, with the bass very prominent, which is quite unusual, but makes for a very original and interesting sound (although, being a bassist myself, I may be slightly biased!). The lyrical style is, again, original and features very little of the cliched lyrics that affected much of 90s punk (for example the songs that relate to relationships are not your typical love songs, and "Firecracker", the only overtly political song, is written in such a way that it is nothing like most political punk songs).
The album opens with "Firecracker" (4.5/5), with a fantastic bass intro and buzzing guitars which compliment it well. It continues with some amazingly fast vocals from Jason, and commendable drumming featuring some great fills. The lyrics relate to war and patriotism, and are carried along on some great melodies.
Next up is "Better Days" (4/5) which upon first listen sounds very like the preceeding track, albeit a little faster, and a little more upbeat sounding. The lyrics are, in contrast rather downbeat, about being unhappy with life (without delving into emo territory), although the last line "I'll take my change when tomorrow comes, with a little luck I'll grow" is an optimistic light at the end of the tunnel.
Beginning with a frenzied riff and some kick drum and bass, "Solitaire" (5/5) continues with a great guitar hook, before going into the verse with some great chuggy powerchords powering it. Very tuneful throughout and somehow managing to sound happy and sad at the same time, this is song that never fails to make me feel good when I listen to it. The lyrics, like an earlier version of "Ultimate Devotion" from "Twisted By Design" concern being mistreated by a lover.
"Never Good Enough" (4.5/5) is a story about a girl running away from home and a city that she hates. The frantic bass intro (with some nice high pitched guitar notes) runs into an equally frantic verse, and then a sublimely tuneful chorus. The bridge section temporarily slows things down a little before the final chorus and a catchy little solo-riff to end the song.
"Gear Box" (5/5) begins with some very metal guitar picking and very fast drumming, and turns into a dark song reminiscent of the band's later material. At three-and-a-half minutes, this is the longest song on the album, but doesn't outstay its welcome.
"Monster" (4.5/5) is a fast catchy punk song, punctuated with repetitions of the slow intro section, and peppered with some nice riffs especially in the chorus. The lyrics are about someone growing up in a rough area of a city and gaining the courage to walk the streets alone (I think!).
"Bring Out Your Dead" (5/5) is easily the best song on STWB and one of the best songs Strung Out has ever written. Starting off with an ominous intro and then a fantastic manically-distorted riff. The verses are nothing out of the ordinary but just have a great feel to them that I can't describe. The guitar solos are simply amazing with a heavy dose of wah-wah, leading into the bridge of "my addiction, my illness, my only trusted friend." The lyrics are simply amazing, and refer, I think, to drug addiction.
"Rottin' Apple" (4/5) is quite a typical sounding song for the band, but the lyrics, concerning ageing and the stories behind the wrinkles on someone's face, are simply inspired.
"Radio Suicide" (5/5), another stand-out song, is about the power of music to make us feel better about things. It has everything you could ask for, great riffs, nice basslines, amazing drumming, a fantastic melodic guitar solo, and lyrics that an music fan can relate to, being sung brilliantly in one of Jason's best vocal performances on the whole album.
"Somnombulance" (5/5), (which means sleepwalking) is a mid-paced song about insomnia, with simple but effective instrumental backing to another great vocal performance and great lyrics. This is a relatively downbeat song, and also features two solos towards the end of song which, again, are quite simple but very effective.
"Six Feet" (3.5/5) is a song about a man hitting the bottle due to family/work problems and depression. Its quite catchy (I often find myself humming the tune hours after listening to it), but is the shortest song on the album (1minute 45secs), and so it kinda stops before its really got going, but leads directly into...
..."Speed Ball" (3.5/5) with an opening of light-speed bass and a frantic two-note guitar riff, and verses and choruses featuring great melodies, and even what seems to be a bass solo (albeit over a guitar riff), all finished off with lyrics about someone who is seemingly able to overcome anything in his/her way.
Strung Out have always had a knack of ending their albums with a real killer tune, and STWB is no exception, ending as it does with "Wrong Side Of The Tracks" (5/5). The song kicks off with a mental drum solo followed by some nice riffs and Jim's patented freight-train basslines. The lyrics are about being trapped in a town you really don't want to stay in. The chorus (featuring some "ahh-ahh"s) is great, and as ever, Jason's vocals shine. The song (and album) ends with a change in tempo (preceeded by some great guitar riffs) for a really catchy bridge section, before Jordan spazzes out on the drums for the outro.
Like all of Strung Out's other albums, this is an album that is guarunteed to make me feel good when I listen to it, and features great musicianship and lyricism from all the band members. Some class this as an underground classic, and I wholeheartedly agree.