Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Bouncing Souls - The Gold Record

'The Gold Song'

'So Jersey'

'Sounds of the City'

These three songs may be all you need to hear to know how great an album The Gold Record is: a solid 1-2-3 opening punch of punk rock. It's not like the album is all frontloaded, with it best songs behind it by track 4; it's also not the case that How I Spent My Summer Vacation being the Souls' crowning achievement in ridiculously upbeat melodic punk-pop, or its immediate follow-up, Anchors Aweigh, being next in line in the band's musical artistry, makes this album any less of a great record. Like Insomniac Doze, The Gold Record is a maturation from its predecessors, not an equal copy.

That said, 'The Gold Song' is a quintessentially Bouncing Souls track - fast, shoutalong and melodic. I remember seeing the Souls here in Dublin as part of a double with (ex-Hot Water Music) The Draft in 2006, and hurrying down the stairs in the Temple Bar Music Centre from the roof garden, where we'd spent the break in between sets, to the sound of this song's opening drumbeat.

'So Jersey' is Springsteen-esque punk-pop, which the Bouncing Souls were doing in their own way before the Hold Steady or The Gaslight Anthem, complete with organ and piano licks. It's about childhood, New Jersey and the importance of music - backing vocals from Chuck Ragan and Brett Gurewitz, among others - a common theme of the songs on this album.

I've never been to Jersey, but it's funny how its residents simultaneously seem to deprecate it and elevate it, how it's both classy and lowbrow, both Springsteen and the Souls, Garden State and Clerks II. There are sunny afternoons everywhere in the world - everywhere habitable, at least - but a Jersey one sounds especially pleasant.

The closer of the trio, 'Sound of the City' takes the directness of classic, punk rock Bouncing Souls - of 'The Gold Song' - and combines it with the nostalgic anthemicism of 'So Jersey' and other, equally classic Souls songs. Lonely streets, whoahs, soaring guitar riffs, and the philosophy of sounds and music. It's the final passage that crushes and uplifts, the essence of the Bouncing Souls translation of melancholy into optimism.

Afterwards, it's a detour into the slow, acoustic but charming 'Pizza Song', a throwback to songs like those on Hopeless Romantic and before, when Bouncing Souls were half jokey and wistful as well as - usually in the other half of the album - frenetically punk. It's followed by the super-anthemic 'Sarah Saturday', and an inspired, enthusiastic and heartfelt cover of the Kinks' 'Better Days' - "I hope tomorrow you'll find better things".

The second half of the album begins with a tribute to teenagehood and, it seems, to Iron Maiden, 'The Messenger' - "oh to be a kid with no worries it seemed so hard". 'Lean on Sheena' is another cover, this time of the relatively obscure - but rather good - punk group Avoid One Thing and, like 'Better Things', makes for a very good Bouncing Souls song. Simple but enormously affecting, and catchy as hell too:

A topical and political song - the words written by a real soldier who served in the war - 'Letter from Iraq' reminds us that 2005 and its surrounding years were one of the worst for global conflict of this millenium so far, and the role punk rock in presenting such information. (Indeed, at the show mentioned above, the singer Greg took time out of the set to remind the audience in the most humble way possible of the differences between the American people and the then government. It's okay, we Europeans already knew that). The next track 'The New Thing' is an injection of personal optimism, forming the start of a closing trio of powerful, superbly emotional songs, along with 'Midnight Mile' and 'For All The Unheard'; "for all the music left behind, all the songs left on the floors in the closets of our minds".

The Gold Record was the last Epitaph album I bought, from a label which was instrumental in shaping the sort of music I listen to now, as well as the sorts that I don't, at least not anymore. It's a maturation as well as an encapsulation of everything that's great about the Bouncing Souls - their music, their humour, their attitude and their influences.

The Bouncing Souls - The Gold Record (2006)

Epitaph Records