Review Summary: Pissed and apathetic, the fourth child in of Lag's seven babies is the "weird" one getting stoned, growing his hair too long, "chilling" with CDs like Superunknown and possibly donning flannel/obscure/ironic "thrift store" clothes.
Sometimes a band, throughout the course of its career, has to reinvent its sound in order to stay fresh, and most of all, relevant to the times they exist in. But human beings are of a fickle nature; if a band takes the risk and changes its sound drastically to the point where it seems they’re trying to distance itself from the sound that made them what they are, the results can be disastrous, professionally and musically (talk to any typical Thrice fans about their overwhelming disregard for Vheissu
, which is actually an awesome record, or Bad Religion’s No Substance
, which… isn’t so awesome).
On the other hand, some bands stay in the same musical stable they started in, and rely less on originality and more on consistency, also with varying degrees of success (Bad Religion, NOFX, Slayer, and No Use For A Name fall into that category). Many so-called “punk rockers” seem to favor this if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it approach. Although typical of bands in their genre, Lagwagon is a band that falls somewhere in the middle. They’ve had extraordinary success putting out a consistent brand of high-octane pop-punk that doesn’t stray too far from the typical SoCal Epi/Fat melodic punk rock that dominated the 90’s, but have remained innovators in the genre, spawning countless rip-off bands and putting their indelible touch on much of modern pop-punk (good and bad). However, in the midst of 1996 while the pop-punk craze was winding down, Lagwagon was on the brink of dissolving; founding members Derrick Plourde (drums) and Shawn Dewey (guitar) had left the band following their tour for 1995’s Hoss
, an album regarded by many in the scene as a genre-defining, classic record that couldn’t possibly be topped. The remaining band members were bitter, tired of being lumped in with other bands as being a one-trick pop-punk pony and being more or less one of the “faces” of the underground pop-punk scene.
Enter 1997’s Double Plaidinum
(jokingly, a commemoration to celebrate less-than-average record sales), a gritty, raw record that in my humble opinion stands as their strongest overall release yet. I find oftentimes it collides as personally with Let's Talk About Feelings
as my fsvorite album from them, but I can't deny it's a powerful, emotional album that just happened to coincide with a tough time in my life. And this is basically Lagwagon’s middle finger response to the close-minded punk scene. It’s heavy, it’s hard on the ears (at points), and it’s a bit of a grower. It’s not quite as consistent of a sound compared to Hoss
, which is actually one of the strongest points; this is the first Lagwagon record with real variation in the songwriting.
The songs by themselves are more stylistically varied, individually stronger, and stand out more as opposed to the general pop-punk feel of Hoss
. While the record retains the typical 200-bpm punk beats Lagwagon is known for, the tempos settle into mid-range quite often here, which has a lot to do with the addition of Dave Raun on drums. His playing is less flash, more muscle, and harder-hitting than Derrick’s typical fleet-footed madness. Although a bit more well-rounded than Plourde, Raun shows that he can play just as fast, laying down some seriously impressive beats (check out the tasteful double-bass in "Making Friends") and more than a few mind-blowing fills (the breakdowns in "Choke", "Making Friends", "Unfurnished", and "Confession" should make a few heads spin). He has great "pop" to his beats that keeps the music flowing and more lively than Plourde's machine-like virtuosity and tendency to overplay. The genre-jumping from pop to ska ("Today") to punk to the metal aspects of "Choke" proves that Raun’s addition to the band has made them rhythmically far more solid. Derrick was a legend, but Raun is simply far more versatile (or was at the time).
Ken Stringfellow, better known as the guitarist from The Posies, lent his guitar talents to the album here, and it shows with the ridiculous myriad of alternate tunings Lagwagon used here... some are in Drop D, others tuned down to full step and a half, eg. GRUNGE. He's a Washington indie rock band guitarist and he sounds just like it. This is readily apparent in the hidden track, a tripped-out, spacey we-all-just-got-blunted jam song that Lagwagon never would have thought about doing before. But it works, for some strange reason, although there's a lack of guitar solos (excluding the cool ones in "Alien 8" and "To All My Friends" ). The band is tighter, however, with everyone locked in tight, which works astonishingly well here. Some of the moments of interplay between Ken and Chris Flippin (aka Big Bitch) are phenomenal, such as the spiraling outro of "Making Friends" or the tight lockstep metal riffs of "Choke". Jesse Buglione plays safe most of the album on bass, unfortunately, although he does come up with a rather neat ska line in "Today", and his arpeggios in the intro to the "Choke" make up for any bland moments.
The mood is unquestionably different from any other Lag record. Just about every song on here, while remaining true to Lag’s melodic roots, belies a darkness and frustration that isn't commonplace in their catalogue (with the exception of 2005’s Resolve
). For the first time, the real bitterness and ugliness comes to the surface. I mean come on, they did
rewrite The Scorpions' "No One Like You" into a song about pedophilia on these sessions, which says a bit about some of their mental states. Um. The album as a whole is less happy-sounding and less reliant on major-key melodies. This has a lot to do with the production, which is bass-heavy with seemingly little, if any high-end in the guitars. According to Joey Cape the mixing was done in about a day with very little post-production. The guitar tones on the album are sludgy and raw, again drawing attention to Ken Stringfellow’s distinct playing style (Chris Rest joined soon after recording was finished). But the minimalist production helps here, and brings across the aggressive nature of the songs quite well. Joey Cape’s singing is much more aggressive and harsher than before, revealing the undercurrent of anger and frustration within the band. True to the motif, the lyrics mostly deal with alienation ("Alien 8" and "Making Friends") and themes of abandonment and typical bitch-done-me-wrong songs (“I thought I knew what truth was, I used to think you really cared/I thought I knew truth, in a sense, I thought that you were that/But I know you too well when you lie/I hope you choke on them and see for me” from album centerpiece "Choke", IMO one of the best, if not best, Lagwagon songs ever). Cape is a hugely underrated lyricist and his earnest yet sarcastic, withering wordplay is in top form here, especially in songs like the aforementioned "Choke", "Twenty-Seven" (“You take a rip and then you find sedation/Some salvation/Masochistic only point of view”), "Unfurnished" ("Make no mistake, it's all the same, it's all the same/This house is drowning in inevitable silence"), and "Making Friends" (“’Cause I’ve been in the circle a hundred times before/And I feel safer in the eye of the storm/You can throw your stones, I’ll only bleed for you for one day”).
Overall, Double Plaidinum
is an essential listen for anyone who likes dark, melodic pop-punk with an edge. But it's also not an extremely easy listen, either. It's far more bleak, loud, and raw than any other Lagwagon album yet, although some parts of Blaze
give it a strong fight (outro of "Lullaby" = ear sex), and it’s certainly not as accessible as Hoss
or Let’s Talk About Feelings
. Good! I truly believe this is a far more rewarding album with patience, and a better overall listening experience. The album is a straightforward rocker through-and-through, and the raw emotion and candid songwriting should appeal to anyone who likes their rock dirty and honest.
"To All My Friends"