Review Summary: Not dead yet. Not even close.
Lagwagon, like many of their EpiFat contemporaries of the SoCal pop-punk explosion of the mid-late 90's, have been a hugely influential band of 25+ years that simply refuses to put out bad material. What's never certain, however, is the amount of time you'll have to wait to actually hear
new material from a band who, like labelmates Dillinger Four and ex-labelmates Propagandhi, take their sweet time on getting new tunes out to the music world. For Lagwagon, the last LP was the emotionally-charged Resolve
in 2005, a stripped-down dark record made in reaction to the suicide of former drummer Derrick Plourde, which resulted in a solid but simplified album that had moments of being undercooked in comparison to earlier albums. In 2008 the band tossed off the cleverly-titled I Think My Older Brother Used To Listen To Lagwagon
EP (basically consisting of Joey Cape's solo material "Lagwagonized"), largely considered their weakest material to date and shortly followed by the departure of founding member and bassist Jesse Buglione, with Joey Cape calling the band's future into doubt in interviews. Bringing in friend and RKL alumni Joe Raposo to fill the vacant slot, Lagwagon then released a boxset remaster of their first five "golden period" albums (2011's Putting Music In It's Place
) and toured in support, reigniting the creative spark of the band and beginning the process of what is now Hang
, the band's most collaborative album yet, as well as the heaviest and darkest Lagwagon recording since Double Plaidinum
pulls absolutely no punches throughout most of its runtime, focusing largely on driving mid-paced muscular rock grooves, a dash of metal (Duh
come to mind), undulating and expansive basslines, a few new tricks, a handful of trademark hyperspeed barn-burners, and by far the meatiest, riffiest and dirtiest guitars out of the band to date. Just about every song has a big ol' Riff in there, punctuated by clever time changes, key shifts, more versatility in sound and their crispest, strongest production yet. Cape's comments in interviews that he let the band take on a lot more of the songwriting burden is evident in how Hang
very much sounds like a cohesive, encompassing album with more purpose and sonic concept than any previous LP. Songs like "Made Of Broken Parts", "Poison In The Well", "Drag", "Western Settlements" and "The Cog In The Machine" all typify the record's sound, coming across almost like a darker, punkier Foo Fighters (if they actually put in effort). While midtempo is hardly new for Lagwagon, it's not a far shot to say that Hang
is their slowest record yet, which might throw off fans who prefer the lightspeed d-beats they're known for. Thankfully just enough of those mosh moments on Hang
exist to fill that adrenaline fix, and with the much heavier atmosphere and production the band sounds fresh and powerful instead of tired and bored like some moments on I Think My Older Brother
EP and Resolve
Despite the long gaps between recording, the band has never sounded better. Chris Rest and Flippin turn in their most varied and original performances yet, riffing all over the place and putting more emphasis on texture and interplay (thumbs up to the bluesy, greasy solo in "Poison In The Well", dat riff in "Cog", the change-ups in "Made Of Broken Parts", and all of "Obsolete Absolute", especially), locking in like long-lost puzzle pieces with fellow RKLers Joe Raposo and Dave Raun on bass and drums, respectively. Speaking of, Joe Raposo deserves a standing ovation for that bass. To say that he blows away Jesse Buglione in ability and advances their sound drastically in power and precision is a big, big understatement. His interplay with Raun's amazing stickwork and the riffier guitars is an integral part of the leaner, meaner Lagwagon on Hang
, and when he takes the lead on "Obsolete Absolute" and "You Know Me" you can't help but be impressed.
Despite the modest shift in sound, this is most decidedly still a Lagwagon record with plenty of nostalgic callbacks to the band's best material. Joey Cape's weathered, instantly recognizable voice begins the album with an acoustic on "Burden Of Proof", bringing to mind classic openers like "Alien 8" or "Burn" in that it's probably the only truly quiet minute of the whole record, only for it to explode into the turbo-speed old-school-friendly "Reign", which joins "One More Song" and "Burning Out In Style" as the most upbeat tracks (at times) of Hang
that sound the most like the upbeat, catchier Lagwagon of Hoss
and Let's Talk About Feelings
. Other than that, we're mostly getting the darker, riffier, aggressive Double Plaidinum/Resolve/Blaze/Trashed
end of the spectrum, although this pays off far more than it fails. Cape's lyrics are more political and social-oriented than ever before, never getting preachy and coming across with his trademark poetic spin to fantastic effect, complementing the darker, harder music very well. "Obsolete Absolute" may be the grandest, most aggressive and monolithic song the band has written in its career, clocking in at nearly seven minutes and putting in more changes, sections, riffs, and tempos than any song the band has done before. With a two minute extended riff-out intro, spoken word sections, multiple verses, music/solo breaks (the Maidenesque dual solo just wins, and hard) and a breakneck frenzied pace, it's powerful, epic and fresh territory for a band this long in the game. Being somewhat reminiscent of songs like "Alison's Disease", "Eat Your Words" and "Owen Meaney" with its calculated build-up. Note to Lagwagon: write more songs like this.
Not to be outshone is "One More Song", a tribute to fallen friend Tony Sly (frontman of No Use For A Name and longtime collaborator) who passed away in 2012. With its hauntingly beautiful intro piano melody, emotional lyrics, and musical synthesis of Lagwagon's speedy skate punk and Bad Astronaut's somber, piano-driven midtempo stylings, it's new ground for Lagwagon and easily one of the best, most crushingly personal songs the band has written to date. Listening to it, it's not hard to tell that Joey Cape had real trouble singing those lyrics during recording, as it's some extremely heavy and cathartic stuff rivaling the soul-crushing "Sad Astronaut" intro from Resolve
. Album closer "In Your Wake" goes through several rhythmic and dynamic changes, building up into what may be the most memorable closer the band have written to date and closing the album off in an delightfully unexpected explosive fashion.
If there's any real criticism of the album one could make, it's that at first listen the album can come across as a bit samey at times and decidedly less upbeat than prior releases, although that largely lies in the eye (ear") of the beholder as you could argue the band has never sounded more sure of itself, musically. A darker and more mid-tempo sound isn't particularly new for Lagwagon, but unlike before, this change feels much more deliberate, purposed and fleshed-out, a singular statement from a band who arguably has a career full of great song-collections instead of album
kicks ass on all fronts, simply put. It's just consistently excellent throughout, never dipping below "really damn good". Nine years after their last record, it manages to retain everything about what people loved about the band and blend it all into one whole all while evolving in a fresher direction. Pretty damn good for a bunch of guys about to hit their fifties, at least.