All the experts say you ought to start them young. Buy your kid an electric guitar for their tenth birthday and they’ll be bringing home the gold at the high school talent show by the age of 15. There’s also a fairly high risk that they’ll be burnt out and jaded before they’re old enough to buy cigarettes. We’ve seen scores of absurdly energetic bands explode onto the scene while all of their members are still teenagers. These are the bands for whom maturity becomes a serious occupational hazard. An extremely small percentage of bands will make that Green Day-like transition from rowdy juvenile punk band to “important” elder statesmen. The rest will quickly run out of steam and inevitably alienate most of their fan base with an album that favors mopey piano ballads over loud guitars (looking your way, Get Up Kids).
All the young dudes in British pop/punk trio Let’s Wrestle are still a year or two away from a full on quarter life crisis yet you can hear it breathing down their necks on Nursing Home, their sophomore album. On “Song for Old People”, the standout track on the band’s cheekily titled debut In the Court of Wrestling Let’s, singer/guitarist Wesley Patrick Gonzalez supposed that he wouldn’t make it to his golden years with his sense of humor intact. While he and his mates are still up for the occasional round of piss taking, this entire affair is a few shades darker than expected. The characters who populate these twelve songs are slowly starting to realize that staying in bed all day is just as taxing as a full time job.
Those Weezer comparisons the band garnered on their first go around should go right out the window the second opener “In Dreams Part II” comes rumbling to life. It has become fashionable as of late to ape the full frontal assault of unfashionable bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Let’s Wrestle, backed up by legendary producer/engineer Steve Albini, are eager to pour a thick layer of scuzz all over their otherwise poppy arrangements. The production favors distorted bass that sounds as if it’s being played with an closed fist and barely competent drumming. The listener grows tense wondering whether the band will be able to keep it together for the entire duration of a given song.
Of course, Gonzalez isn’t sure that keeping it together is a challenge he’s ready to meet. Throughout the album he’s constantly chastising himself for being a lazy, forgetful bloke who’s constantly pining after girls that he doesn’t even have the energy to chase after. Occasionally he manages to make mirth out of his misery. The band channels their inner Pavement for “I’m So Lazy”, a slacker anthem that climaxes with a hilariously sloppy guitar solo. The breakup ballad “I’m So Useful” (there’s that dreaded piano!) finds Gonzalez sarcastically reassuring himself that “I will not let my big emotions get ahold of me today / I’ve gotta put an English face on this.” Although it covers well worn territory, the bittersweet “In the Suburbs” is the album’s centerpiece. Like Big Star’s “In the Street” 40 years before it, this song reminds us that nobody can tell us about the ennui of adolescence like someone who’s just outgrown it.
Before you can pat Gonzalez on the back and say “stay gold, Ponyboy”, he’s back to skewering cougars (the unfortunately titled “Bad Mamories”) and battling Pokemon characters in his dreams (“In Dreams Part II”). There’s still a lot of fun to be had at this Nursing Home but it’s pretty clear that the party is winding down. Whether or not Let’s Wrestle can suffer the slings and arrows of young adulthood to fight another day is entirely up to them.