[14 March 2005]
Sure, it would be easy to hold Bowling For Soup responsible for perceived shortcomings, such as the fact that their pop-punk sound already seems slightly dated. But how can you resent them for having stuck it out an entire decade, from their humble origins in Wichita Falls, Texas, to a career mostly spent lugging their equipment around the vast, sun-scorched wasteland of south-central America, playing bars and frat parties from Norman to Austin, all the while building up a rabid regional fanbase? This is the kind of slow-burn crucible that most bands never pass, but Bowling For Soup won their success the old-fashioned way: they earned it.
And with that in mind I heartily endorse “1985” as one of the most sadistically catchy songs of the new millennium. Even more so than their previous hit, the Grammy-nominated “Girl All The Bad Guys Want”, “1985” seems to have been genetically engineered from pure stock in order to create the absolutely finest possible specimen of pop-punk efficiency. The sarcastic, juvenile edge that until recently defined pop-punk—as seen in the early output of bands such as Sum 41 and Blink-182—is almost totally gone. In its place we see a far more rounded and empathetic eye for character—the song manages to simultaneously lampoon and commiserate with the pathetically outdated soccer-mom whose story is told. The transformation from puckish reprobates to six-string humanists is nowhere as pronounced on A Hangover You Don’t Deserve as on Sum 41’s recent Chuck or Blink-182’s eponymous album, but it is still noticeable. Tellingly, “1985” is actually more evocative of Fountains of Wayne’s recent power-pop surprise “Stacy’s Mom” than anything you’ve heard on a Fat Wreck sampler—and just like “Stacy’s Mom”, “1985” manages, at least in theory, to appeal to the early-middle-aged women who may be beginning to doubt their coolness, as well as the children they drive to school every morning. Calling it superbly calculated and maddeningly efficient would, at this point, merely be stating a fact.
The toned-down punk attitude forms an effective counterbalance to the group’s nascent romanticism on album-opener “Always”. This could be another hit, with a wistful sing-along chorus and just a slight twinge of irony to leaven what could have been an unbearably sappy effect. After the first third of the album, the band stretches a bit, incorporating pianos and acoustic guitars onto tracks such as “Ridiculous” and “Shut-Up and Smile” (the latter of which begins with a Supertramp vamp before kicking into a robust glam-punk movement).
If the album suffers, it suffers for length—while the group shows themselves to be surprisingly limber songwriters, they lack the self-restraint that could possibly have made A Hangover You Don’t Deserve a stronger and more consistent album than it is. If they had been able to pare down the 17 tracks to an even dozen, maybe the second half would not be such a slog. Departures such as “My Hometown” are lost, nestled between competent but relatively rote rockers such as “Next Ex-Girlfriend” and “Smoothie King”.
The album ends well, with the romantic one-two punch of “Two-Seater” and the acoustic “Friends O’ Mine”. Although I would maybe have suggested that they trim twenty minutes or so off the running time, there are enough highlights to make it a worthwhile listen for anyone still interested in the intersection between plaintive power-pop and high-octane punk.