Punk has been difficult to define since its inception. Even its exact D.O.B. is up for debate. Who were the first “punk bands”? What’s the qualifying criteria? Obviously there are artists like The Kinks and The Sonics, who uncontrovertibly displayed punk characteristics long before the genre itself was coined, and in 1969, years before punk’s germination, The MC5 were performing with unbridled intensity very few bona fide punk bands have rivaled. It seems safe to say that in 1977, “punk” simply referred to a new wave of intense, straightforward rock and roll, the way it was before the “dark days” (the era where disco, inane singer-songwriters and progressive rock reigned).
Ironically, the majority of “authentic” present-day punks are about as turgid and humorless as the Rick Wakemans and Greg Lakes the movement’s UK and American harbingers reviled. Punk is—or should be—a reclamation of rock and roll’s dumbshit idealogical and musical fundamentals, with an additional dollop of speed and irreverence for good measure. Anything else that calls itself punk rock arguably isn’t. Mean Jeans are the manifestation of this atemporal punk essence, then. They’re the genre’s savior. They’re fast, they’re nasty, and stupid as hell, and above all else, indelible. They consider themselves a “party” band, and the three members go by the Ramones-esque pseudonyms “Billy Jeans”, “Jeans Wilder”, and “Freak Daniels”. What more could you ask for? Mean Jeans are hedonist buddhas, and …on Mars is poppy-punk nirvana.
And like The Ramones—whose music markedly serves as a template for The ‘Jeans—there’s a bounty of unwitting lyrical and musical genius at the center of these songs. It took walking my soaking-wet, carless ass home in a tempestuous hail storm earlier this afternoon to realize that “School Lunch Victim” could be a subtle metaphor for the inequity in life. It probably isn’t, but the point is that these songs are more multidimensional than their titles suggest. And they’re catchier than you could possibly imagine. The vocal melodies are always the highlight, and even when the words are irredeemably dumb, the notes they’re pinned to are wonderful. Plus, the band might be more musically adept than they let on—calculated instances like the key change at the end of opening track “Ready 2 Rip” and the glockenspiel intro to “Anybody Out There?” set the band apart from mere Ramones imitators, but moments like these are rare and always appropriate.
The songs on ...on Mars simultaneously feel too short and just the right length, something the best pop songs have in common. A song like “Nite of the Creeps” for example, which clocks in at 1:21, feels decidedly complete in spite of its short length, and the nearly four-minute punk dirge “Don’t Stop Partying” goes by far too quickly. It’s that inarticulable ingredient that makes a pop tune so infectious, and what motivates repeated listens. Whatever it is, Mean Jeans have it down. Please don’t stop partying, guys.
// Notes from the Road
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