Screeching Weasel
Lookout Records / Panic Button

Screeching Weasel is a hopeless romantic's dream assignment. This Chicago 
borne-and-based entity, and I say entity because applying the term 'band' to 
Screeching Weasel tends to bring into question the very meaning of the word, 
has been putting out punk rock recordings since the dark days of 1986. In 
the course of that time, Screeching Weasel have come up with ten full-length 
albums plus another three non-album full lengths of pre-released material 
and appeared on a countless number of compilations, splits and EPs. The 
sheer quality of the punk rock on those recordings has earned Screeching 
Weasel one of the largest and durable followings in the punk community. 
Durable because perhaps even more impressive than the frequency and sheer 
quality of Screeching Weasel's output has been the incessant tendency of 
Screeching Weasel's lead-singer, Ben Weasel, to fall-out with his fellow 
'band members,' break-up the 'band' purportedly for good and then reform it 
a little while later with new personnel. Besides Ben Weasel, only lead 
guitarist Jughead has appeared on all Screeching Weasel recordings to date. 
The number of bassists, drummers and back-up guitarists who have made up the 
balance of the noise, to date, is at least twelve.

While the lead-singers of bands that enjoy a cult status similar in magnitude to that of Screeching Weasel are usually idolized and adored by their fans, Ben Weasel is accordingly regarded pretty much as a complete asshole by pretty much everyone. In addition to the numerous break-ups he has allegedly engineered, Ben's decision to stop taking Screeching Weasel out on tour because he claims to simply not enjoy touring has infuriated expectant fans to no end. Ben Weasel's vilification is perhaps best seen in the contrast between himself and the other member of Screeching Weasel's only discernable core, Jughead. While Jughead's talent as a guitarist is admired tremendously by Screeching Weasel fans, the regard those same fans have for Ben Weasel's singing ability is usually somewhat derisive. In addition, Jughead has remained almost invisible throughout Screeching Weasel's residence in the punk community and as a result has given himself few opportunities to taint the respect fans have for him. Ben Weasel has been anything but, shooting his mouth off as a columnist for Maximum Rock n' Roll and when he got fired from that, on the Screeching Weasel internet site, on just about everything which pisses him off, which is a lot of stuff and thus tends to in turn piss off a fair number of people in the punk community.
And so, Screeching Weasel is not your average, run-of-the-mill band. They have recorded some of the greatest fast rock n' roll around, yet somehow manage to convey the impression of being one giant fucking disaster that is somehow still with us - kind of like a ghost of the Titanic, if you will. To get an idea of just how fucked-up Screeching Weasel is or was or has been, witness one relatively recent installment of the Screeching Weasel saga: In 1994, Ben Weasel broke up Screeching Weasel to form another band called The Riverdales, consisting of himself and what was then the Screeching Weasel rhythm section. This band then went on to achieve instant infamy in the punk-community by touring the megadomes of North America with the platinum-selling, radio-darlings-of-the-moment, before being broken up in order to reform Screeching Weasel, which involved nothing other than bringing Jughead back into the fold since The Riverdales were Screeching Weasel minus Jughead. The four of them then managed to record an album called Bark Like A Dog, but only barely, before the rhythm section quit in frustration over Ben Weasel's insistence that Screeching Weasel was not at all going to enjoy any of the commercial success other punk bands were enjoying at the time. Of course, Ben Weasel then went out and got himself a new bassist and drummer, plus a back-up guitarist for good measure and then founded his own label to put out the band's next release, but not before Bark Like A Dog was pilloried by just about everybody, except Chicago's commercial rock radio-stations, which apparently loved the record.
Which almost brings us to Screeching Weasel's latest full-length, Emo, except, of course, for the release of one other full-length, Television City Dream, which precedes Emo by about nine months. Television City Dream was the logical progression from pretty much everything that had been happening up until that point. For release after release, Screeching Weasel have enjoyed some of the slickest production in all of punk-rock to accompany Ben Weasel screeching on about suburban girls with mental illnesses and boredom to deal with. On Anthem For A New Tomorrow, the formula produced one of the better punk albums around . . . but the albums got progressively worse from then on. On Television City Dream, the formula was applied and out popped one amorphous, uninspired, pointless, insubstantial, boring blob of a record. "Speed of Mutation" is one "fucking great song," granted, but I doubt anyone has any real idea what the fuck most of the other ridiculous excuses for songs are about or where they came from. The music was pretty bland too. It was clear that Ben Weasel's focus was all fucked up, the record seemed to have been put together just for the sake of it and that if he continued down this line, things were going to get pretty damn messy.
I don't think anybody really expected what happened next. Emo, quite frankly, is like a knock-out punch in the twelfth round from an outmatched and overpowered boxer bordering on the brink of consciousness, because that's essentially what it is. You open up the case and the first thing you see, apart from the CD itself, is Ben Weasel's handwriting screaming out at you, "Yeah, I'm a shitty guitarist. Can't sing too great either. Fuck it. Low budget, a little loose - what do I care? It's the best record I've ever played on; best tunes I've written . . . This is for the people who get it and who always have. It's real and they'll know it and all the poor sales charts and pitifully small royalty checks and fan bitching and moaning in the world can't change that." That's one fuck of a challenge - 'like this record or FUCK OFF.' Usually, you'd figure that the record is doomed, that it really is crap and that everybody on the Screeching Weasel Message Board who said within days of the release that low-budget Screeching Weasel doesn't work was right. But look at the lyrics. As soon as you see the lyrics to Emo, you know this record is a more than a radical departure . . . that it's nothing short of a major fucking revolution. "I Wanna Be A Homosexual" aside, I can't think of a single Screeching Weasel tune that was genuinely personal. Everything in Weasel's lyrical arsenal is cynical. It's one of those immutable laws. So when you see " . . . I know it's finally time to appreciate the perfection of all life . . . I laid down on the ground and I looked around and I saw a miracle. I appreciate the simple beauty of the world." staring out at you from a Screeching Weasel lyric sheet you feel like shitting yourself in shock and then rolling around on the ground for good measure. This remarkable new development in the lyric-writing history of Ben Weasel doesn't stop there, but is prevalent, gasp, throughout all of Emo. For thirteen years, Ben Weasel has forged a lyrical style distinctive for its avoidance of the first person, and now he has put out an album so inexorably introspective that it appears almost brave. Beyond that, there's really not that much point in talking about tangible components of the album, because for an album of this nature such things really don't matter much.
In general, the tunes aren't that catchy compared to the past produce of the band, though given that Screeching Weasel has put out some of the catchiest stuff around, I think we've all had our dose of that. Certainly, if you're looking for a continuation of the run of form which has produced power-pop gems like "Speed of Mutation", "Burn It Down", "Punk Rock Explained", "Crybaby" and the notorious "Video", you won't find it here. But what you will find here is one of the gutsiest recordings you might ever hear. This is what it sounds like when a guy who has been weighed down by shit I couldn't comprehend turns to face it all and comes out way above. It's audio art, folks, a monument to the triumph of the human spirit or some shit like that. The passion comes through thick and fast. For this, Ben Weasel deserves two sets of credit. The first, for having the guts to change everything he's been doing lyrically for thirteen years in order to overcome artistic and psychological slumps. The second, for choosing to record this low-fi, low budget, practically live in order to capture the guts that have gone into those songs. Spending hours trying to get sounds perfect in a recording studio is a damn good way to becoming completely divorced from whatever emotions went into writing the song in the first place. For recent records, Screeching Weasel have done exactly that and that's one of the reasons they've sounded so flat. Had they made the same mistake with this record, it wouldn't be half the record it is. But they didn't and it came off excellently. The record doesn't sound anywhere near as slick as say Bark Like A Dog, but it sounds a heck of a lot more real, more substantive and much, much better.
Among the things to watch out for on the record include a cover of the Cranberries' alterno-pop hit "Linger", thrown in to the mix no doubt for shock value (it worked pretty well here) [Ben claims he's a fan of the Cranberries of course!] which comes off sounding simply excellent, just like most of the stuff here. "The Scene" is another song worthy of "fucking great song" status. The closing track, "Bark Like A Dog", is among the best endings to a record you'll hear in a while. Recorded through a muffled microphone, the song sounds about as far from its full-length namesake as you could hope and has practically no tune, but somehow manages to be about a really, really fucking rousing piece of music and even more addictive. The line "I let every motherfucker make me think I was a cold-hearted, cynical crank" has already replaced "A hundred thousand bucks and your video still sucks" as my nominee for Screeching Weasel lyric of all-time . . . Really, it is impossible for me to quantify how great this record is. Suffice to say, that it is a very, very special record, in particular for those who actually care about this band, and that it really is an utter shame that there aren't more records like this, because it's what music should be. So, my conclusion is (I never, never thought I say this but . . . ) Emo is "fucking great" and you should tell all your friends to go and buy Emo records because this new passionate and emotional style of music is a really neat thing. OK.
...andrew beath...

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