Review Summary: The Ataris used to be a high quality pop punk band, and Anywhere But Here shows that with catchy songs and well written lyrics.
Before the Ataris were associated with the indie and emo music scene, before the Ataris went mainstream, before Kris Roe became the most hated front man in punk rock, there was ...Anywhere But Here. The Ataris debut album from 1997 was a landmark in the D.I.Y. ideology of punk, and the music style was reminiscent to the pop-punk style that was gaining momentum in the underground punk scene of the 90's.
The back story to this band is almost like that of a fictional, rags to riches story. Roe formed the band in 1995 with friend Jasin Thomason in the small farmtown of Anderson, Indiana. To find a drummer, Roe sent a demo tape around to find one. Joe Escalante, the bassist to the Vandals, came across the tape, and offered The Ataris a record contract with Kung Fu records. Despite only wanting a drummer, Roe had successfully came across a record contract by mistake. To sweeten the deal, Escalante got Derrick Plourde, the original drummer of Lagwagon, to play drums for their recording. Thomason left the band shortly thereafter, so Roe decided to record the guitar, bass and vocals all by himself along with Plourde's drumming.
Compared to The Ataris later work, this album is almost exclusively upbeat sounding punk. The slow acoustic songs are nonexistent (unless you want to count "Angry Nerd Rock"), the borderline alternative songs are missing, and any traces of Roe making emo style screams are unheard of. What makes this album so worth hearing is its pure catchiness and the well thought out lyrics. Roe, for a 20 year old musical rookie, was very skilled at making quality music.
The album opens up with the instrumental "1...2...3...4", and then goes into "As We Speak" and "Bite My Tongue". These 2 tracks pretty much sum up the entire album. They're fast, upbeat, have clever lyrics and somehow put you in a good mood, the mood 90's punk was known for by its fans. Musically, the album isn't very complex. Plourde puts in some typical punk beats, and occasionally there are some memorable beats that are reminiscent of his Lagwagon days, but nothing too exceptional. Roe pretty much uses solely power chords and basic bass lines that go along with the guitar, and he rarely tries anything unique. "Hey Kid" uses a ska-punkish style guitar riff and "Take Me Back" has this happy guitar riff that sounds oddly familiar to "Lipstick" by Guttermouth, but is nonetheless good song. "Ray" is a hardcore punk song.
This album is catchy, pure and simple. While definitely not complexly written, this album does leave an impression on you. While I find most of the tracks to be great, songs like "Make It Last", "Blind and Unkind", "Are We There Yet", "Lately" and "Let It Go" will inevitably get stuck in your head. "Angry Nerd Rock", which was re-recorded on The Ataris second album in 1999, was an odd exception to the almost exclusively punk sounding album. It's a slow paced song with a repetitive grunge sounding guitar riff with emotional lyrics. Roe's voice gets exceptionally "into it" on this one.
The song subjects are one of the best things about this album. Pretty much all the songs have to do with relationships, but there are several witty lyrics that reference pop culture and are either relatable, funny or both. The song "Lately" says arguably the most memorable line on the album
"Lately I've been contemplating jumping in the ocean. Sometimes even Spock would show a little more emotion!"
"Are We There Yet?" is about how hard it gets being in a band, especially when it comes to the bonding and touring part of it.
"I can see the headline now... "Four punks found dead again... We know you don't care... but, film at ten. And, now on to sports." Things are looking bleak, everybody thinks that I'm a geek. We're hiding all our cash, my fingernails are digging in the dash. "Why didn't you ask for directions? What Cracker Jack box did you find your license in? You stupid piece of ***... I'll never ride with you again!""
Neilhouse also utters the relatable lines of
"Love is for morons. But, who's this ***ing idiot that I see staring right back at me? ? ? Will someone tell me What's right or wrong anymore? Cause' everywhere I go I wonder what I'm searching for. I think of all the times I've thought of you and masturbated."
"Four Chord Wonder" mocks bands that use an overused riff presented in the song, "Hey Kid" mocks self proclaimed punk experts and "Anderson" is an angry rant against Roe's boring hometown and how he'd "rather be anywhere but here..."
Frankly, I can go on about how well the lyrics and music go at making an impact on the listener, but I don't want to be trolled by Sputnik fanboys and "music experts". Anywhere But Here was a great debut album by The Ataris that shows their original roots and is very enjoyable. The Ataris would soon drift further from their punk roots into emo and indie territory, and their last album from 2007 was almost pop.
I highly recommend this album. I also recommend buying an original version over the 2002 re-release because the re-release's sound is too polished and a lot of the pop punk charm is gone. You will miss out on "Anderson" and the Weezer cover of "butterfly", but you could easily find those elsewhere.