John and Rob Wright, collectively (un)known as Nomeansno, don’t play your average punk rock. In fact, there is nothing average about these two elder Canadian statesmen with the exception of their countenance. While past releases have focused on Heideggarian (“The Worldhood of the World and Such”) and Orwellian themes (“0+2=1”), their newest release No One, full-length number nine in their discography and a mighty fine album to boot, continues their fascination with nihilism and nothingness. There are very few bands of their caliber: those who can wax philosophical, challenge your deepest held body-politic sensibilities and make you think while avoiding trite and boring choir preaching or bowing down to political correctness. And, unlike other thinking-man’s bands, Nomeansno never sacrifices the medium in favor of the message; they flat out rock, playing a strange concoction of hardcore, solid odd metered chunk-and-stomp rhythm, jazz fusion, 1970’s metal and new wave.
No One is the aural equivalent of film noir. Dark and brooding, full of seedy anti-heroes and grisly situations that shock you in that no matter how much you (want to) hate the protagonists, they draw you in nonetheless. Rob Wright’s created personas meander somewhere between skid row and insanity as there is no shortage of surly characters on this album.
“The Graveyard Shift”, is musically a Nirvanaesque interplay of crunchy guitar and supple bass melody that leads to the confessions of a lonely security officer working the graveyard shift who interlaces claims that he enjoys his job because “it’s quiet and I can read all night” with encroaching thoughts about his failed relationship. It invites us into his psyche; our analysis provides the story of a depressed psychopath, an unrequited lover who works alone, away from any human contact.
In “A Little Too High”, we walk down the street and trip over a cocaine addict mid-shot as he slips the hypodermic needle into his flesh. A hyperactive bass bounce mixed with syncopated drum fills and sporadic guitar squawk brings us into his everyday world of fighting, fucking and teeth grinding; a place where his ability to care is diminished by the need for cocaine and the drug’s psychotic haze. The affect of the song is much like cocaine psychosis, ecstatic and terrorizing.
Sure, loneliness, jilted lovers and drug addiction are topics many other punk bands cover, but unlike other bands, Nomeansno aren’t held back by political correctness. They refuse to sacrifice the development of a character for the purpose of avoiding misunderstandings and misinterpretations. In the added lyrics to “Bitch’s Brew”, a minimalist interpretation of the problematic Miles Davis instrumental, the protagonist is an S&M dominant who handcuffs his lover and smacks her around as we receive the visual of lipstick on a bloody lip. “This has nothing to do with sex,” he says just before the tune becomes—momentarily—an acid jazz excursion complete with congas and piano; rather, it is about power manifest as a means to “keep him from coming unglued.” But here, unlike shock rock with its theatric histrionics, Nomeansno’s purpose is not to titillate or cause controversy for the sake of selling records. Rather, like on all of the tracks on No One, they unceremoniously provide us with a quick landscape of a world that we/they may or may not inhabit.
In today’s punk demographic, the brothers Wright play little on No One that would even fit into the “punk” category at your local Tower Records. Sure, they often play loud and fast, but missing is the “punk sound” characterized by NOFX and Blink 182. Perhaps they hearken to an older age when punk was more about experimentation and temerity than codification. Witness their cover of the Ramones classic “Beat on the Brat”, the last track on the album. While the original is a poppy ironic twist on violence, Nomeansno strip the pop varnish from the tune and repackage it as a disoriented gravelly-voiced call for violence pushed along at an efficient but grinding pace; Nomeansno has literally beaten the brattiness out of the song: mission accomplished.
No One is a brave fierce release. Though not their best, it is instantly more important and vital, more daring, than anything on the Warped Tour.