I owe my local guitar shop owner a huge debt of gratitude. Aside from being an all- around good guy, he also turned me on to a very special band. I can remember the day I first heard of Army of Freshmen. It was late spring, and I had hitched a ride out to Mr. J’s Music Shop to purchase some much needed strings for my acoustic guitar. After browsing through the lovely selection of instruments that I couldn’t afford, I remember Mr. J getting into a discussion with a friend of mine over Eddie Vedder.
Now my friend, being an adamant Pearl Jam hater, was shedding his opinion on a show that Mr. J had attended a year or so prior, at which, Vedder had performed. Since Pearl Jam is among my favorite bands, I instantly jumped to their singer’s defense. Anyway, the topic soon shifted to Mr. J’s son, Chris. Apparently Chris had given up his backstage pass (or something of that nature), so that Mr. J could meet Vedder and other performers at this show. Of course (as I now know) as soon as Mr. J gets on the topic of his son, his son’s band, The Army of Freshmen is not far behind.
Chris Jay formed The Army of Freshmen over the course of 1997, after bidding farewell to high school. He traveled from our hometown of Cape May, NJ all the way out to California in search of band mates. During this time, Chris wrote about 500 or so songs for the prospective band. He met the rest of the members of AOF at an open mic in Ventura, CA. The new band took off like a shot, recording several demos and EPs. They were eventually signed to Blue Hand Records, who released their self-titled debut album.
Their second record; Beg, Borrow, Steal, was recorded and released by 33rd Street Records. The album was a smash-hit in Japan (funny how that happens). It was also met with rave reviews in America.
Now, let’s see how rave-worthy this review is.
Beg, Borrow, Steal starts of nice and soft with the intro, named after the album. It’s a nice piano track that sets a good mood for the album. The intro starts off the next song, “Uniforms.” This is a fun little song about bullies burning down a neighborhood tree house (probably a metaphor about oppression). The next song, “Gang Sign,” starts off with great use of the keyboard (which is primarily the lead instrument on this album). This is a good, catchy song that makes you want to tap your feet. The song centers around a young rocker who wishes to please his lover, despite not gaining the accolades that most rappers do. Clearly, this is another “take back the radio” song from a pop-punk band, but it’s catchy nonetheless.
“Paradise,” is the next song. It’s fairly weak compared to the first two tracks. It’s not as catchy, but more mature than its predecessors. The fifth song is “Get ‘Um Up.” If you’ve heard anything from this band, it’s most likely to have been this song. It’s easy to see why: Fun lyrics about soldiers deciding to leave a battleground for home, lead into a nice chorus. I can see why most people would like this song, but personally, I think this album has much more to offer.
“Song Away from You” is a typical teenage romance track. Not one of the better tracks on this album, but it’s a nice change of pace from the rambonxious pop-punk that precedes it. “Road Less Traveled” continues the mellowness turn that Beg, Borrow, Steal has taken. It combines the naivety of romance with sing-along lyrics. These two tracks compliment each other well, and are very enjoyable. “Sing Along” is a song about two friends and their journey through the different scene changes and band changes to hit their town. All I have to say about “Sing Along” is that the keyboard solo is damn fun to listen to.
“Put Me in a Photograph,” the next track, is my least favorite on the album. It’s more or less another poppy “remember me” song. But, you can always expect there to be one lemon, even on the best of albums. On the next song, “Hard to Say,” AOF takes a change of pace (primarily with the vocals) and slows down for another romance song. Nonsensical lyrics will make you shake your head and laugh, but the soft chorus holds it all together.
As the album begins its climax, one of my favorite songs comes up. “No Engine” is a song about a new driver fixing up his car to gain the respect of his peers who apparently laughed at his efforts to do so. The funny (almost saddening) lyrics stating “the harder I worked, the more it seemed to break down,” can’t help but bring a smile to your face. On, “Last Dance,” AOF talks about the changing music scenes to hit a high school over time. AOF apparently feels that their life is sub-par, as evidenced by the lyrics “my life sucks, it’s not the one I see on MTV.” Again, you’ll smile as you sing-along.
Now, the final song is something special to me. Aside from being the best song on the album by leaps and bounds, “On the Night the Boardwalk Died,” makes me feel truly connected to Army of Freshmen (as I grew up about a block from said boardwalk). The best lyrical, piano, and guitar work on the album, “On the Night the Boardwalk Died” has become one of my favorite songs. Everything about this song is near-perfection. In short, it is (in my opinion) a pop-punk masterpiece.
Well, as I said before, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mr. J. I’ll never let him know that, however, because I doubt I could tolerate the ensuing storm of mockage. Army of Freshmen have quickly become one of my favorite bands, and I highly recommend that anyone who is a fan of punk, pop, rock, or anything along those lines check out this album.
Fun, funny lyrics.
Unique use of keyboard and organ.
“On the Night the Boardwalk Died”
Vocal work may turn some off.
Some songs follow all too familiar (and similar) formats.
The Army of Freshmen is:
Chris Jay- vocals
Aaron Goldberg- guitar/vocals
Owen Bucey- keys/vocals
Dan Clark- moog/keys
Mike Milligan- drums
Kai Dodson- bass
You can hear them at the following sites: