From 1993 to 1996, the Queers ruled the whole pop-punk universe. Green Day sold infinitely more records and Screeching Weasel put more tattoos on the backs of its fans, but during their stay on Berkeley’s Lookout! Records, the Queers put out one great record after another, toured endlessly to legions of adoring fans and sparked a million garage bands who tried in vein to mimic the Queers’ cheesy three-chord solos and juvenile lyrics.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and in the years following 1996’s stellar Don’t Back Down, the Queers fell apart. Singer/guitarist Joe King ended up in and out of rehab, bassist B-Face left to join the Groovie Ghoulies and drummer Hugh O’Neil died of a brain hemorrage. King is now touring with an inferior band and inferior new songs under the Queers name, and for all intents and purposes the Queers’ reign over the world of pop-punk is over.
So now Lookout! gives us Later Days and Better Lays, a 21 (plus one unlisted) track compilation of demos, b-sides and outtakes. The demo tape that got the Queers signed to Lookout! is here, and it ends up as the majority of this career retrospective.
Nearly all of the songs from the demo ended up on 1993’s Love Songs for the Retarded, and the versions on that album are significantly better. The playing here is horrendous (King admits in the liner notes that the band was extremely drunk at the time of recording), and most of the songs sound less-inspired than the souped-up versions on Love Songs for the Retarded. Still, there are some standouts here, as the thundering “Monster Zero” and poppy “I Won’t Be” sound better than they would after their later studio treatment, and “Murder In the Brady House,” which would be recorded later for the obscure My Old Man’s a Fatso 7”, sounds better in its original form.
After the Love Songs demo tape, Later Days and Better Lays picks up considerably. The version of “Born to Do Dishes” here comes off as sock-hop-styled ‘50s pop, much different and much more fun than the roaring punkier version on Don’t Back Down. The demos of “Junk Freak” and “No Tit” go nowhere, but three of the four songs from the Bubblegum Dreams 7” are here and all of them are essential. “Never Ever” is one of the best pop songs King ever wrote, and the covers of the Beach Boys’ “Little Honda” and the Muffs’ “End It All” are a blast of fun and stand up quite well to their originals.
If you’re already a Queers fan and don’t have Bubblegum Dreams, Later Days and Better Lays might be worth it for those tracks and “Born to Do Dishes” alone. But if you’re just starting your collection, avoid this and its mediocre Love Songs demos and pick up the real thing. One listen to Love Songs for the Retarded, and you’ll realize why the Queers dominated pop-punk the way they did. While the stuff on this comp is good, outside of the Bubblegum Dreams stuff it’s hardly essential and in no way indicative of just how great the Queers used to be.