Heads On Sticks & Ventriloquists

The prodigious writings of a tortured genius.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Ten Years To A Lifetime

Lifetime and Weezer are two bands that probably have never, probably will never, and probably should never be compared to each other. Stylistically there's almost nothing similar between the two except that they both fall into the sweeping genre of "rock 'n' roll". Both bands were staples of their mid-90s scenes: positive melodic hardcore and 70s rock influenced grunge. Both released two fanatically praised records: "Hello Bastards", "Jersey's Best Dancers" and "Self-Titled (Blue Album)", "Pinkerton". Now in the 21st century, both bands have made miraculous comebacks, albeit past their prime.

Lifetime's new self-titled record is the abortion debate of punk rock politics. This controversy stems from the band deciding to sign to Fueled By Ramen/Decaydance Records after 10 years of dormancy (something about Pete Wentz being involved). Whatever your stance on this debate you can see what 3-chord guitar hero Dan Yemin has to say here.

Even if you don't like them, it's hard to say that Lifetime is not a pivotal band in the genre. At a time when hardcore was about pent up hypermasculine rage, they were able to take a more positive and poppier (read: contains a melody) stance. There were the obvious influences -- Gorilla Biscuits, Jawbreaker, Hüsker Dü -- but Lifetime was able to make a racket entirely their own. At this point, this review might seem like an excerpt from their press release, but all of this is true.

Some people may hate them for the bands that took note and followed suit (just take a look at the genealogy: Fall Out Boy -> Taking Back Sunday -> Saves The Day), but the mark of many great bands are the legions of inferior imitators (although I would be a liar if I said I wasn't a fan of Saves The Day, and even some TBS and FOB songs).

Lifetime's first album in ten years ends up sounding nothing like the "post-Lifetime" bands, but more like 90s pop punk. "Lifetime" sounds like an amalgamation of bands like Slowride, Lagwagon, and NOFX (I guess they decided to let Shook Ones and Loved Ones ["The Ones"] co-opt their style these days, which is actually a great thing for everyone). There's still that distinctive Dr. Dan guitar tone, but the songs are even poppier and the production is cleaner (courtesy of Steve Evetts who has seen his own rise to fame since he and Lifetime first teamed up in 1995). Vocalist Ari Katz's lyrics are still able to capture the mindset of a romantic punk (which are different from "emo" lyrics because they're upbeat, find positives in negatives, and are poetic in an entirely non-bad-high-school-goth-kid way). One of the main differences is Ari's singing style. It's clearly him, but his signature rasp has been subdued a bit, in that he actually sings much more. This is hardly a problem.

Sometimes the record has moments where the glossy production and poppy melodies hinder it. Some of the songs, like "Can't Think About It Now" and "Northbound Breakdown", come dangerously close to straight up sunny California pop. Not that these songs are bad, they are just forgettable in their radio-readiness. There are more than enough highlights to warrant any Lifetime fan to invest the $10 or so to get this album. "Airport Monday Morning" is signature Lifetime, right down to the chugging bassline bridge 2/3 through. "Song For Mel" captures the dynamic tempo shifts and great melodies that the band is known for.

In many respects, Lifetime has been hindered by their legend. In the decade since their last release, they've been built up to be god-like, when the entire charm of the band all along was their modesty and fun sound. This album is not the greatest album ever released, and neither were "Hello Bastards" nor "Jersey's Best Dancers". What made Lifetime so great was that they were able to connect with listeners on the most basic of musical levels. They were fun and ten years later, they're still fun today.


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