Screeching Weasel - Thank You Very Little
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I'll probably remember the day I purchased this album for a while. It was the
first day of my Spring semester (something, given that the ending of my fall
semester resembled a train wreck, that did not overjoy me), a week after my best
friend determined that I was not worth talking to, a day before I was to be
confronted with the ridiculous yet terrifying proposition of having to get up in
front on 250 Harvard undergraduates and try to convince them to entrust ME with
teaching them for a semester, a day after I badly fucked up a bleach job on my
hair and right smack-bang in the middle of one of the worst mental states I'd
been in since I was on a plane I was convinced was going down. All of which, of
course, made it about the most absolutely perfect time for me to pick up a brand
spanking new release of Screeching Weasel unreleased demos, outtakes and live
material.

One suspects that I was not the only individual that Ben Weasel hoped would get a hold of and love this material. After jettisoning the band's rhythm section four years ago, Ben Weasel has released three albums on behalf of his band - the first, a record that he personally loved, released on a label that many people regard as representing everything that is wrong with punk rock today, was panned by many die-hard fans, the second, a mediocre, amorphous and arguably poorly engineered effort that undersold its predecessor and most recently, a raw, unpolished composition that proclaimed its own greatness in the course of the liner notes and then proceeded to further alienate a good number of fans who hadn't already departed on account of past events - three albums that left many hankering after the good old days when Screeching Weasel could be defined in terms other than a Ben Foster studio project losing what was once an awesome relevance with every release. Of course, that is exactly what a release of previously unreleased demos, outtakes and live material is about.
Ben Weasel opens his traditional previously-unreleased-material-release drawn-out band-chronology by attempting to justify the release of "Thank You Very Little" on account of the fact that he had "forgot a few great tunes" in putting together "Thank You Very Little"'s mirror, "Kill the Muscians", five years earlier. Bullshit. Screeching Weasel needs its own fans back (or at least buying something they put out) and this is what this release is about. That's not to say that myself and many other Weasel-worshipping obsessive-compulsives didn't sing and dance in a daze of merriment upon hearing of the news of this release, but that is the reason why I believe it ultimately exists.
In any event, I'll now try to help Ben's cause by suggesting, after listening to this record a number of times, that "Thank You Very Little" is a release that is very much worth the while to pick up. The material spans a couple of discs - one of unreleased demos and out-takes running the gamut from '86 to '99 and the other of a live show and practice session circa 1993 - but is thankfully (if somewhat pragmatically) priced as a single disc. Ultimately, "Thank You Very Little" may not quite meet the standard set by its older sibling, "Kill the Musicians" (which brought together on compact disc, among other things, fan-favourites and by-now legendary pop-punk tunes such as "Punkhouse", "I Wanna be a Homosexual" and "The Girl Next Door" [A SW song, dammit!]), but, in so for as Ben Weasel only had five years worth of outtakes plus a number of 'unintentional (and, to be fair a few other intentional) omissions' to work with, that is to be expected . . . and besides, fuck it, a handful of absolutely mighty fine songs and the sheer joy inherent in getting two discs for the price of one more than make up for whatever shortcomings hyperanalytical, cavilling, pretentious critics might somehow manage to pinpoint.
Speaking of shortcomings, one of the major ones presented by the first disc of "Thank You Very Little" is that the songs on it are ordered chronologically. Thus, for the first few listens (I say first few listens because although for I quickly reached the conclusion that the first four songs were shit, they are gradually [as was the case with both the s/t and the B-album] assuming their own remarkably durable novelty value) one has to cringe through (or take the effort of skipping through) a couple of wisely overlooked demo recordings (composed of a scaringly veritable geriatriphobic manifestation of the grave dangers inherent in penning lyrics before you find a tune and perhaps the worst attempt at a pop-rock song I've heard since I last listened to something that I'd composed), an unreleased and rather misguided attempt at a hardcore tune (that still holds up better than most hardcore) and an impassioned if unimpressive Boogadaboogadaboogada-era output, before running into even the more listenable but ultimately superfluous low-fi (see also Cookies n' Hookers "Fuck You Punk!") pre-takes of tunes that ended up, substantially more polished if a tad enervated (especially "I Need Therapy"), on such albums as "My Brain Hurts", "Wiggle" and even, in a couple of cases, "Kill the Musicians" (out-takes from an out-take album if you can possibly grasp the concept). Also among the first ten relatively unspectacular songs is the early version of "I Wanna Be a Homosexual", with, as Ben promised in the "Kill the Musicians" liner notes, babbling for lyrics and a version of "Cindy's on Methadone" with the Cindy changed to Shirley.
Upon reaching song eleven, things take a decided turn for the better with the delightful, familiar tune of "Amy Saw Me Looking at Her Boobs", the fine music of which appears in the "Fuck the World, I'm Hanging Out With You Tonight" song by The Queers.
Then - in what can only be described as a truly submlime moment in time - you reach the first peak of the album and perhaps one of best Screeching Weasel songs around; the delightful, newly-polished "27 Things I Wanna Do To You." As Ben fully admits to in the liner notes (and he admits to a lot in the liner notes [again, not quite as good as that to be found in "Kill the Musicians"], spilling his guts about his relationship with his significant other [and, in so doing, about the origins of the subject matter for a number of Screeching Weasel songs], but unfortunately not about the reasons behind the departure of Vapid and Panic following the recording of "Bark Like a Dog" - which, given that Ben seems to desperate to define Screeching Weasel in terms of their presence in the band [witness this album cover and the "Beat is on the Brat" cover] may be seen as an attempt to fire-proof a few bridges) the exclusion of this song from "Wiggle", for which it was recorded, is completely baffling. It is probably the best song on the disc, and although it lacks the kind of representativeness to become a Screeching Weasel bona fide fan-favourite, it has quickly become one of my personal favourites - I get the feeling it could have been the kind of tune that easily could have made this band famous and my neighbors very angry. The tune is unadulterated pure pop punk ecstasy - the kind of song that drives one to crank the stereo to High Heaven, scream at the top of one's lungs and bounce around the surrounding locality until everything is in pieces.
From that moment in history we proceed through a couple of over-produced tracks from the "Anthem . . . " sessions that were ultimately deemed fit to be replaced with the demo versions on the album release, an actually distinguishable (save the recording quality, this is rather rare on this comp), early but nice version of "Nightbreed" (to be re-recorded and released on the "Major Label Debut" EP) with a new bass-line ("[Mike Dirnt's] bass-line was stepping all over the lead vocal in the chorus") and the two tunes for the "Suzanne Is Getting Married" EP release previously available only on vinyl (the second of these tunes is a gem). Then follows a couple of out-takes from the "Bark Like a Dog" sessions (the first is weak and passable, the second is impassioned and good in, say, the "Emo" context but ultimately unfit for replacing "Stupid Girl" [I actually like that tune]) and covers of D.O.A.'s "The Prisoner", The Subhuman's "Fuck You" and a tuneful track (with a mind-bending chrous) entitled "Suspect Device" originally recorded by Stiff Little Fingers. All these covers are out-takes from the unusual (read the insert) "Television City Dream" sessions, with the latter two to be found on the "naked-girl picture disc."
Then follows a moment second only to that when you heard "27 Things I Want to do to You" - it is "Can't Take It" - an out-take from "Television City Dream," left off the album because, according to Ben, "I couldn't write lyrics for it." Count me in as one who is glad he finally did (and what fucking great lyrics they are) and released it - another song well worthy of some ear, throat and physical damage and another song that is so fucking good that it literally makes one want to scream. "Can't Take It" may well end up to be the second item out of Chicago to be associated with both the number 23 and greatness. Following that is another more-than-credible tune with Mike Ness-tinged vocals from the "Television City Dream" sessions (unlike some of the stuff that actually ended up on the album) which can also be found of Epitaph's "Return of the Read Menace" benefit compilation.
To finish the disc off, there is one great original out-take from "Emo" in which Ben takes pot-shots are streams of political punk and three covers from those same sessions - one of them of "Dirt" by The Stooges (Ben describes this as the counterpart to the song by "Bark Like a Dog", but it is not nearly as powerful or bearable), a passable, though very "Emo" version of "Anchor" by Husking Bee which would have sat well on the album and another that represents a special surprise with a special guest in the vein of "I Can See Clearly Now."
And as if that wasn't enough - and believe me, it is more than enough to try and review in one session - there is the live disc. At it's best, the recording quality represents a mid-range bootleg and degenerates sharply from there. Add to that the fact that Screeching Weasel live are not either NOFX live (read: funny) or U2 live (read: take it seriously) and you have a disc that probably won't spend a lot of time in my player. The nadir of recording quality of the disc (and perhaps even in human history if that hasn't been done before :-)=) is pretty much represented by the five "practice space" tape recordings, which are so poorly recorded as to be barely listenable (see also Cookies n' Hookers "Fuck You Punk"), despite the fact that the session contains three other actual songs (as opposed to versions) that you won't find anywhere else - two of which APPEAR to be PRETTY FUCKING GOOD - and the irony inherent in hearing, among that bunch, "Electroshock Therapy" from the ultra-produced "Bark Like a Dog" album.
As for the actual live show; with the exception of Joanie and Johnny - which includes a hilarious Anthony Kiedis-style rap in the middle of it - the songs sound much like bad-quality, rough renditions of the album versions. Ben talks for a while at the start of the live show, and although it was nice to finally hear his talking voice, he doesn't talk much after that, and never really says anything funny. Despite it's failings, however, the disc does serve a purpose in diminshing my distress (because they don't seem to be that good live) at the distinct possibility of never being able to see Screeching Weasel in concert and . . . for free, fuck, I'll take it. For those of you that are interested, I have it on good authority that there are better Screeching Weasel live recordings to be found elsewhere - although not in Boston . . .
To begin to wrap this fucker up, "Thank You Very Little" presents, by way of its shear breadth, a convincing account of the band's progress over the fourteen years of its existence. And while releases of the nature of "Thank You Very Little" hanker after times well passed, the compilation does as much to demonstrate the immaturity and misguidedness of such nostalgia as it does to service it. For, while over the time and forms in which Screeching Weasel has existed there have been changes in the band's style (a conclusion borne out by the compilation) - generally the tunes have become slower, simpler, more chord based and generally less reliant on Jughead's outstanding talents, especially since the abortion of The Riverdales project - what the band definitely haven't got over time is worse. Unlike many bands which play good music, get noticed, become semi-famous and then proceed to lose their passion for doing anything and, as a result, are condemned to a marginal career of recording shitty music, Screeching Weasel's songs remain as impassioned and as infectious as they ever were. The catchiness that sucked us all in the first time we heard "Hey Suburbia" is still there, alive and kicking and very much at the heart of this band's material.
Whether or not "Thank You Very Little" serves whatever motivations Ben Weasel might have for releasing it (and in truth, despite discussing them at length at the beginning of this review, I couldn't give a fuck - I do, after all, own a couple of "Extreme" albums), committed fans will relish the opportunity to get their hands on "Thank You Very Little" and indubitably come to cherish at least a select portion of its contents (non-committed fans and newcomers to Screeching Weasel will, no doubt, be confused by the album and thus are advised to pick up something else by the band instead, but, on the other, I'd really have no idea how non committed-fans would react to this album because such a state of mind is, ultimately, quite alien to me).
So, even if I did come off looking like a nervous wreck in front of 250 Harvard undergraduates in the course of trying to encourage them to enroll in my course, even if my hair is bright yellow, even if I do not really know whether I have any friends anymore and even if I am on target to become a fucking insanely-stressed mental-case in a few mere months, what the fuck? I have "27 Things I Want to do to You" and "Can't Take It" and an empty room to bounce around in and, you know what? From time to time, I think that it's shit like this that ultimately makes the difference.
A little under a year ago, the combination of a Screeching Weasel tape and a car stereo were the tangible factors most responsible for turning my girlfriend into my best friend. I wouldn't give up listening to Screeching Weasel for her and there ain't much I would give it up for. God Bless Technology and I love this band.
...andrew beath...

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