Review Summary: Professionals make it look easy.Hoss
is Lagwagon’s third full-length album, released in 1995. Between 1994 and 1998, Lagwagon released Trashed
(’95), Double Plaidinum
(’97), and Let’s Talk About Feelings
(’98). During those 5 years, there was arguably no more talented, harder working punk band in existence. In their prime, Lagwagon aggressively toured and blazed a trail of melodic sympathy through the minds of punk enthusiasts. There was stiff competition from their successful contemporaries to capture the market share of homeless punk rockers. Green Day, Rancid, NOFX, and The Offspring each put out several quality albums during this time frame (collectively, these bands are uncommonly referred to as the Legion of Punk Bands with Clearly Recognizable Vocalists). Lagwagon understood the need for a polished sound before entering the studio and the importance of developing a global presence. By 1998, they were professional punk rockers, enjoying the luxury of only occasionally having beer bottles thrown at them while onstage.
But in 1995, there was still some growing up to do. Some of their weaker tracks took their albums down a notch in quality because of unsuccessful inside jokes told awkwardly over two minutes, only satisfying to their die-hard fan base. 'Namedropping' is an example of this unfortunate loss of lyrical continuity early in the album. The music was held to an increasingly high standard, and those lyrical wrinkles were all but ironed out by the time Hoss
hit the dusty shelves of record stores (on cassette!).
I specify lyrical continuity because there is no musical continuity lost throughout Hoss
. Lagwagon’s distinct instrumentation is consistent but a healthy progression from their previous release Trashed
. The guitars keep a steady reminder of Lagwagon’s past –metal driven punk rock. Chris Flippin, who has been with Lagwagon since their inception (along with Joey Cape and Jesse Buglione–although Jesse recently quit in 2010 to spend more time with his son), plays guitar like its axe namesake. The metal influence is seen in the heavy breakdowns ('Bro Dependent', 'Sick', 'Black Eyes') while the listener is flooded with consistent distortion and the late drummer Derrick Plourde’s crash cymbal. Not to be lost in discussion are bassist Jesse Buglione’s riffs and licks. The emphasis on production quality in Lagwagon’s recording pays off for the bass playing. Too often, punk rock listeners find themselves thinking “ooh that sounded like the bass right there, cool.” Buglione’s bass is clear and enjoyable, distinct instrumentation that acts in a leadership role for parts of the album. It’s a reward to fans of quality bass playing and another component of Lagwagon that stresses professional execution.
Lagwagon frequently changes the pace of their music but it hardly catches the listener off guard. Their musical composition stresses a framework for frontman vocalist Joey Cape, who alternates between aggressive yells and a whiny intonation that is best in moderation ('Sleep', 'Ride the Snake'). When Cape brings a bite to his voice, it’s vigorous but nonthreatening, and it’s the preferred way to receive a vocalist who has struggled with high notes during his solo career. But emotive songs like 'Violins' and 'Bombs Away' gain that much more traction with Cape’s delivery, allowing the more hardcore punks to blamelessly indulge in their softer side while still rocking out.
Cape’s lyrical ability is agile. He consistently dabbles in metaphor and entire songs end up being conceptual trips. It brings back the “inside joke” element but he starts to let you in on the joke with his clever songwriting. His storytelling is relatable to young adults, but when carefully parsed, many of the songs achieve more than simple sympathy. 'Bombs Away' is a playbook description of a guy watching a girl mentally unfolding, in a sincere attempt to alert her to her own misgivings. It’s one of the best songs on Hoss
, replete with well-placed transitions, a timely breakdown during the chorus, and a melodic arrangement that amplifies the lyrical strength. ‘Violins’ is a great example of the leap in creativity and mastery of song construction that helped Lagwagon shape their identity in the late ‘90s. It’s similar to ‘Bombs Away’ in musical arrangement, but deeper in emotional sensibility. It’s perhaps the most well-written Lagwagon track, and standing the test of time, it later appeared in an acoustic format to the delight of many fans (and even garnered some new fans).
It’s been about 16 years since the release of Hoss
and Lagwagon is far from their prime and currently on hiatus. Digging through their catalog is still a worthy adventure. It’s irrelevant that Hoss
may not be the best album Lagwagon released. Lagwagon embraced different styles and sentiments throughout their career and this was a period of successful transition. Hoss
is one of the finest punk albums released in 1995 and a must-listen in Lagwagon’s worthy discography.