Review Summary: Brand New’s greatest unofficial achievement.
When people marvel at 2006’s The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me
and praise Brand New’s apparently “sudden” maturation, they’re leaving out a rather important piece of the puzzle. It’s easy to glance at their discography and point to Deja Entendu
’s pop-punk demeanor, and then to The Devil and God
’s dark, existential rock mastery and call it an astronomical rise. The truth is, Brand New’s evolution over the years was far more calculated – and Leaked Demos 2006
illustrates a link in time that too few people know about. This was The Devil and God
before it evolved into the classic that we know today. ‘Luca’ and ‘Sowing Season’ exist here in their primitive forms, while ‘Battalions’ offers us a variation on ‘Archers.’ Those demos, clearly, went on to become better versions of themselves. However, Leaked Demos 2006
holds its value in the unreleased songs – the ones that were never fully mastered because of a leak that left the band with a bad taste in its mouth. We’re ultimately talking about ‘Good Man’, ‘1996’, ‘Brother’s Song’, ‘Missing You’, ‘Nobody Moves’, and ‘Fork and Knife’ – a collection of gems that would go on to become Brand New’s figurative sixth LP; this brilliant album that almost happened but never did.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that the band scrapped this approach and was forced to reinvent the wheel, because without it we wouldn’t have their emotionally devastating magnum opus. But it sure is nice to revisit the leaks, because they represent that all-important missing frame in Brand New’s story, the organic growth that bridged two of their most well-received albums. Some of these tunes even serve as a backstory to the pain and loss of innocence strewn about TDAG
. For hardcore Brand New fans, Leaked Demos 2006
is practically as essential as their five “official” LP’s, and honestly, it’s every bit as good.
Right off the bat, ‘Good Man’ hits you in the gut. It’s two minutes long, and it spans two lives – Lacey’s, and the object of his affection, presumably his first love. He sets fire to two pieces of paper – one with his name written, and the other with hers – and laments that hers “burned out the whole spectrum, as if you were everything” and that his “just burned gold, a normal flame”, ultimately concluding “I am not anything.” He goes on to recount their youth together, and the time they spent indulging in their friendship. As they both grow into young adults, she falls for a series of boys and summer loves who “play careless with her heart”, while he has a new girl sitting beside him in his car every night. It’s sung mournfully; regrettably. It’s clear that he still thinks about her and wishes to recapture that feeling, as he sagely informs listeners, “something dies when you grow older, but you do the best you can...I am glad you found a good man.” It’s really a tale as old as time: boy meets girl, they each grow up and apart as “life happens”, then one or both looks back remorsefully at what might have been
. For such a brief acoustic track that, upon initial inspection, sounds like little more than an interlude, ‘Good Man’ is brimming with astute observations about relationships and life. It’s easily one of the most underrated songs in Brand New’s canon.
From there, Leaked Demos
delves into the Morrissey-esque ‘1996’, which alternates between thick, syrupy verses and an all-too-memorable chorus (“…and so three cheers for my morose and grieving pals”), with the main hook existing as twangy guitar plucks that introduce the track while resurfacing periodically. The most interesting line is one of self-damnation, which sees Lacey foreshadow the lyrical theme of the band’s future three records: “If there's any justice in heaven then God won't let me in / He'll lock the gates and take my weekend pass away...I am cursed to walk the earth for millennia, I know I deserve worse but it terrifies me and I can't take it anymore.” ‘1996’ offers such a fluid and melodic progression that you’d never suspect the lyrics would condemn the narrator to such a fate, but that’s the charm of 2006 Brand New – a band that had accessed its lyrical forte but was still working its way out of the pop-punk/punk-rock arena.
On the heels of ‘1996’ comes ‘Brother’s Song’, a heartbreaking account of war and the impact that it can have on a family. It feels a bit like a sibling track to ‘Good Man’ in the context of the album, again resorting to stripped down acoustics and Jesse’s vocal/lyrical prowess. The anti-war vibes are obvious when he sings lines such as “just a few mothers' sons will never be enough / not 'til half of our names are etched out in the wall, and the other half ruined from the things we saw.” What gives the song such a personal touch, though, are the allusions to the narrator’s brother – who becomes a relatable character. “The girl that my brother likes is finally talking to him, and his chest is all swelled like he's proud and happy / Like he's got a great idea, like he's making a memory” Jesse proclaims, before threatening, “I'll be dead before you put a gun in my brother's hands.” It’s a stance that many people can empathize with; he’s protective of his (presumably younger) brother, and he doesn’t want to see harm befall him. For a frontman whose lyrics are often introspective and self-deprecating, ‘Brother’s Song’ is a touching ode to the dedication he has to his family, and how fiercely defensive he could become if their lives were ever in danger.
Two songs that unfathomably never made the cut for any of Brand New’s future albums both come next, in the form of ‘Missing You’ and ‘Nobody Moves.’ The former is an insanely infectious pop-rock tune with a driving electronic/synth backbeat, offering fans what might be the band’s happiest-sounding song to date. The chorus forlornly alludes to the death of a loved one, but fondly bids them adieu: “Until I awake, we just hope that you made it / We hope that you're celebrating, with people you miss.” It doesn’t sound like the most optimistic topic, but it’s all in the word choice. Lacey wishes this person happiness in the company of those who passed before him; to be reunited with kin. It’s a bittersweet moment that comes full circle when Jesse confesses: “I'm happy to admit that maybe I am a little depressed…'cause I'm missing you to death.” While it makes sense that such a bouncy rhythm with an uplifting message wouldn’t have been included on The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me
– even had it not prematurely leaked – there’s really no way to logically deduce what happened to ‘Nobody Moves’, a track that feels tailor-made for that album. The song winds through seven minutes of celtic-sounding guitars, lullaby-like chimes, and gradually increasing intensity that travels through an imagined bank heist with hostages (“Nobody get any smart ideas…If we don't have any heroics we may just get out of here / We don't want trouble, and we'll take what we came for and we'll leave quiet”) all the way to the most epic instrumental breakdown and guitar solo in Brand New’s history. No seriously, it makes the solo in ‘Limousine’ sound amateur, which again begs the question as to why Lacey and company never made an effort to properly include it on an LP. Alas, it’s still one of the best songs the band has ever recorded in any capacity, and further bolsters Leaked Demos 2006
as a crucial piece in any fan’s collection.
‘Fork and Knife’ rounds out the list of TDAG
castoffs; a beautiful song propelled by an unrelenting drum/piano sequence. Again dealing with growth/loss of innocence, Lacey pens some of his finest one-liners: “The closest thing we had to royalty / A chance to break our parents' pattern”, “We are dry and blown like dust since we were young / What we invented, I am now ending”, “I'm leaving you to nurture cherished wounds / And care for it just like your lover.” Leaked Demos
, like a lot of the lyrics written for it, is a bittersweet creation. It’s unfinished work by a band that typically takes painstaking measures to achieve perfection. In that sense, there will always be an element of mystery. Could The Devil and God
have reached even greater heights had it not been tampered with by leakers？What might some of these songs sound like fully remastered？Despite these questions pertaining to unfulfilled potential, we could also just as easily have never heard these songs in any capacity beyond their raw, initially-leaked state. At least Brand New saw it fit years later to revisit this collection and clean up the production. Thanks to that, this collection of demos will go down as Brand New’s greatest unofficial achievement.