Longevity is not a word that is often associated with punk music. From two-minute songs to the length of bands’ careers, everything about the genre is fast, short, and loud. There are, however, the rare bands like the Bouncing Souls or Bad Religion that have recorded and toured for several decades, surviving fickle fans and genre fads (post hardcore, metalcore, screamo, etc). While the Bouncing Souls’ career has lasted nearly 20 years, their songwriting has usually adhered to a short and sweet mentality. What the Souls’ early recordings lacked in length and complexity, they made up for in sheer fervor and sing along choruses. All of their songs may have sounded the same, but well-crafted albums were not of much concern for the Souls. The live show was, and (probably) still is, the central focus of their music.
If most bands mature or “reinvent” themselves at some point in their career, then the Souls’ version of this can be found on 2003s’ Anchors Aweigh. More focused songwriting, some experimentation (at least for an old school punk band) with a hidden acoustic track and subtle organs, and sleeker production all complement the Bouncing Souls signature balls-to-the-wall, straight-ahead punk pieces.
If Anchors Aweigh was a maturation that kept the Souls’ immediacy and simplicity, then The Gold Record is the next step in the progression. The Souls find new gimmick-free outlets for reinvention, such as the acoustic/accordion mix of “Pizza Song”. While accordions and harmonicas (“The Messenger”) may have found their way onto the album, unpretentious, if not cheesy, song titles such as “New Thing” and “So Jersey” reassure the listener that The Gold Record is indeed still a Bouncing Souls album.
The album jump-starts with the fast-paced pit-happy “Gold Song”, as strong a sing-along anthem as any in the band’s catalog. Unlike many of their contemporaries, the Souls set their angst-ridden punk rock to positive (and sometimes goofy) lyrics. On the chorus of “Gold Song”, Greg Attonito belts out: “I heard someone say, that nothing gold can stay / But there’s a love in all our souls and it shines like gold”. These feelings of nostalgia and empowerment can be found throughout the record, including the mid-tempo “New Thing” (“There was a time we had so little / And a little was enough / It took some time but now we see / Everything’s inside of us”). For any other band, these lyrics would come across as trite, but the Souls are not any other band; their career has been extremely genuine and they play and sing with such conviction that their lyrics are not only acceptable, but effective.
The biggest fault of Anchors Aweigh might have been the amount of material on the disc. Much of the 16-song album was solid, but a decent portion was run of the mill filler, a problem that is not entirely new to Bouncing Souls albums. Unlike previous outings, however, The Gold Record feels more like a greatest hits collection than a standard Bouncing Souls release. Beyond the trademarked melodic punk of the Souls, as on the undeniably catchy “Sounds of the City”, the album features subtle but effective “maturation” in songwriting. “The Messenger” starts with arpeggiated chords and builds into a rocker, complete with killer drumming and a harmonica solo, that is as much Bruce Springstein as the Vandals. The six-and-a-half-minute marathon of a closer “For All the Unheard” starts with a single acoustic note over an organ, before incorporating electric and bass and climaxing with the chorus, only to fade out into a progressively slower mix of all the instruments. While the idea is nice, it’s a pretty weak way to end an otherwise strong song and album.
Songs opposing President Bush and the war in Iraq are standard fare in the punk world, but like much of the genre, most severely lack depth or original takes on the issue. The Bouncing Souls, never considered to be political in nature, put in their anti-war effort with “Letter to Iraq”, a song based off poetry from letter correspondence the band has had with an American soldier, Garett Reppenhagen, stationed in Iraq. The fresh angle on the subject and strong musical delivery put the song several steps ahead of the Rock Against Bush crowd. The album also includes two well made covers of “Lean on Sheena” by Avoid One Thing and “Better Things” by the Kinks, which sound more like original songs than covers of originals.
The Bouncing Souls will never create critically acclaimed groundbreaking music. They do, however, create simple, entertaining, original music. Credit has to be due to a band that can continue to tweak its sound, mature, and still stay true to its roots all at the same time. The Gold Record is an album that will satisfy old fans and hopefully bring in new ones as well.
The Bouncing Souls - The Pizza Song