[9 August 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Joey Cape and Tony Sly have become the resident singer-songwriters over at pop-punk label Fat Wreck. Cape and Sly—with Lagwagon and No Use for a Name respectively—have both fronted long-running successful bands, but recently both have turned to solo albums. Each have released two full-length albums, and they’ve worked together in the acoustic band Scorpios. Before that all started, though, Cape and Sly recorded Acoustic, a split album in which they each reworked songs from their bands’ catalogs into new, quieter arrangements. For two guys known for their loud bands, the results were surprisingly strong.
So the two have returned eight years later with Acoustic Volume 2, and the same rules apply—six songs each, five from their bands’ discographies and one new song from both guys. It’s hard to see why they’ve decided to come back to this well, since both seem to be looking forward and producing solid solo records. Regardless of motivation, though, they do take some interesting turns with older material.
Cape starts the disc with his best song here. “I Must Be Hateful”, a charging stand-out from Lagwagon’s 2003 album Blaze, gets reworked here into a finger-picked, confessional ballad. Cape’s honeyed bleat is pared down to a hush, and when piano fills up the chorus, you can feel the pained nostalgia of the song. “Know It All”, originally on the Lagwagon’s classic album, Trashed, may feel a bit dated in its screed against fans crying “sell out”, but the pastoral alt-country turn on the tune here marks the album’s most energetic moment. As on Acoustic, Cape’s half of the record is very strong. He turns Double Plaidinum highlight “Confession” into a spare, lonesome tune, and his new song “Broken Record” is anything but more of the same, yet another solid song from one of pop-punk’s truly great songwriters. The song selection is a bit curious, especially the inclusion of Lagwagon b-side “Alison’s Disease”, which drags a bit more than the other songs Cape plays here, wallowing in its careful layers of strings rather than building on them.
If Cape comes off as the heart-on-sleeve folk singer, Tony Sly posits himself as the pint-fueled pub troubadour. His hard-struck acoustic clatters through NUFAN classic “Soulmate”, and “Chasing Rainbows” plays accordion, piano, and brushed percussion against Sly’s ringing guitar. “Black Box” is a slower take on all of this, but it feels like a sweet calm between these other storms. And the new song, “Liver Let Die”, is a great last-call tune, complete with a gang of friends screaming “One more song!” under the refrain. Sly tries his own hand at more hushed balladry on piano-heavy turns “Pre-Medicated Murder” and “Under the Garden”. While the organs on the former make it interesting, Sly sounds better when he’s belting it out and breaking a sweat, so these songs sound a bit too airy for their own good.
Both Cape and Sly bounce around their discographies to find songs to include here, which is admirable, but also can hold Acoustic Volume 2 back. Acoustic was an album filled with classics. Cape reworked “Violins” or “Move the Car”, while Sly redid “On the Outside” and “Exit”. Excluding “Soulmate” and “Know It All”, this new volume is full of deep cuts. This works when you get an “I Must Be Hateful” to revisit, but while it’s nice to give songs from later albums like No Use’s Keep Them Confused, some of them don’t quite hold up. That said, Acoustic Volume 2 is still a solid listen beginning to end, another well-done collection for fans of these two great songwriters and their bands. It may not invite new fans the way Acoustic could, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of good music here for fans already in the know.