Wednesday, August 16, 2006
What does a nice little farm girl like me have to do with a bunch a tattooed punks like them?
When I was 13 years old, sitting in my bedroom overlooking a hay field and crying because without a doubt, nobody, nobody would ever understand me, I could have really used these guys. If they’d been doing their thing in 1984, I’d have been all over them. I’d have wallpapered my room with them, and woken up and gone to sleep with them, and written their memorized lyrics all over my History binder.
Truth is, they kind of were around back then, only they were called Echo and the Rockets Cure, and I did like them, but they weren’t heavy enough. I didn’t know from heavy back then. I hadn’t found the heavy that would satisfy me. Instead, I wrote the lyrics for Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time all over my English binder. Not heavy but undeniably a classic. (Cyndi was somebody who may have understood me, or at least accepted me.)
So, while I come off like just another obnxiously perky pickup truck driving housewife (wha?) I have a pretty serious dark side. I wanted to die when I was twelve and have fought if off ever since. I laugh deeply and love everything ridiculous, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget that my darkness allows my brightness to shine.
A FIRE INSIDE
My dark streak will always be there.
These guys get that.
Decemberunderground was released on 06/06/06 -- ooh how devilish-- and I bought it in mid July. This means we’ve been spinning the disc regularly since then. I’ve had lots of time to absorb it and it has very efficiently seeped into me.
The Jethro-Jetta Test: Passed! Part of his approval rested on a fun little game that I like to call, “Who Mixed This?” We got into track 3, the first single, “Miss Murder” and within seconds Jethro declared that this sounded like a Lord-Alge mix. This game continued for the duration of the CD and the better part of the highway trip. Yes, half of the songs are mixed by Chris Lord-Alge, the rest by Producer Jerry Finn.
It was a wobbly pass though. Those Lord-Alge mixes are harshly bright- better sounding on the radio, says Jethro- and actually distort the stereo in our little Jetta.
He was willing to overlook this though, because he claims that it is “haaavy” which is good. Other descriptive words included “Interesting” and “unexpected”. He also noted that the vocalist has an overbearing lisp. But he got over it because the guy screams like no other and it’s “really f**kin cool.” He got away with the swear because the tunes were really loud and the kids couldn’t hear.
The dining room test: Not bad. It’s a pass. Not exactly pleasant dining music...but the kids like it.
The BS filter: If the 12 and 10 year old kids dig it, it’s relatively bull free. However, as a parent, I can’t help but be disturbed by the death-suicide-genocide-despair-bit my lip- imagery in the lyrics. But then again....as a former suicidal twelve year old, maybe I can understand it. These guys feel this way too...and they’re still alive.
The downstairs stereo surround sound test: I can’t help but think that most of this would work very well in an extemely slick high budget movie about a superhero who lives in darkness and works in the cover of night and has a tortured soul who can’t be loved.
Also, I would love to hear this band live and see how the recreate what they've recorded. I have a feeling they'd be punishing. The kick drum sounds in some tracks are killer.
This is one sharp sounding record. Really harsh. It will tear your head off. I wouldn’t expect anything else for a record like this.
The whistle while you work test Highly motivating. There may be some pretty damn gloomy subjects to deal with, but if there’s one thing AFI is really good at, it’s the shout along background vocal choruses. Even if you can’t understand the words, there are plenty of opportunities to do the WHOA OH OH!
The packaging is gorgeous. All in black and white photography, it’s elegant and chilly. Lyrics are written out in paragraphs rather than in the usual boring stanzas. Jethro had one complaint: the producer and engineer should have been credited on the back cover of the disc. Okay. I know where he’s coming from.
The songwriting on this record is so solid. I will warn you right now, these songs are infectious. These are earworms. Good luck getting it out of your head. Good luck resisting singing along to this stuff. Just try to hold still and not dance or at the least, do the nod and tap while you listen to this one. The first single, "Miss Murder," is just the beginning. "Kill Caustic" has taken a spot on my Favourite list. "Summer Shudder," "Love Like Winter," and "The Missing Frame" are addictively catchy.
These guys are solid players, and it shows, but the programming and keyboards take more of a role this time around. Die hard punk fans from way back will probably not like this. There are, if I can dare to say this, some touches of synthy new wave in here.
One of the band’s strengths is the unexpected. How can you find yourself jigging along to songs with lyrics like, "So now you'll love these screams, what's left of me. Love these screams like I do." It's insane. There are chord changes that most of us wouldn’t think of, and time changes that leave you feeling rather face smacked. And it’s good.
They're also very dramatic. Just look at the drama. Feel it! Taste it! Hear the drama! "Kiss and Control" features a spoken word tirade including "We'll burn like stars. We'll burn as we fall." I don't get to do that in real life. My favourite song on this album is called "Kill Caustic" and has the refrain, "Love these screams like I do. Don't speak my name!" I laugh maniacally as I scream along.
Vocalist Davey Havok is pretty special. He wears more make up than I do, and I have never waxed my eyebrows. He’s not my type, but I find him fascinating. I once read another critic- a real one- describe his vocals as “Kite in a rainstorm” and I love that. It’s accurate. But he’s not just a singer capable of a yelp as much as a low menacing whisper. He possesses the best throat shredding scream out there. It is bloodcurdling!
He has the most magnificent right arm tattooed with scenes from the Nightmare Before Christmas. The Tim Burton fixation I totally understand. He strikes me as a person who can’t quite live in the world the way it’s been set up, and doesn’t expect to be understood for it. I get that too.
While other rock stars glower and glare- which is essential rock star behaviour- Davey Havok lifts his chin and gazes down at us knowingly. He just knows.
(I must add that when I yanked this photo off of Images, the jpg was titled "Davey Cute." I think that's hilarious. I just do.)
I respect art, and effort, and this guy is a hell of a frontman. He sings in about four different voices, not including his range of hellacious screams. Listening to him do his thing can be a beautifully cathartic experience.
Davey feels my pain so that I don’t have to.
Or, I feel his pain.
Or, we feel the pain together.
After a spin of an AFI record, with all of its colourless imagery and misery and yelping and crashing and screaming...I just feel all good inside.
Decemberunderground is that special album that manages to weld together catchy tunes and heaviness. I would have to say, at the risk of pissing off those music fans for whom “pop” is a bad word, that this is, at its core, a pop album. However, it is the Heaviest Scariest pop album ever made.