[4 January 2005]
Think of any remotely cheesy hit from the ‘70s or ‘80s, and you can bet the farm that there’s a punk rock cover of it out there somewhere. The trend has run rampant since punk rock came back into vogue in the mid-‘90s. It’s not surprising, really. It’s just too easy. You can take almost any song, throw out all the difficult parts, reduce it to a few chords, and sing the melody over it. And just like that, instant gratification for those with the insatiable craving for nostalgic irony.
You’ve therefore got to give it to Me First and the Gimme Gimmes for jumping on the opportunity to profit on this semi-sub-genre of punk. Why the hell not? There’s a demand, and the Gimmes have been supplying for quite a while now. You could argue that such a band has no artistic merits, and they would no doubt laugh in your face while trying to get out the words, “I know, dumbass.” It’s not like these guys don’t have their fingers in more tasteful pies: the Gimmes are comprised of members of Lagwagon, Swingin’ Utters, and—oh yeah—the Foo Fighters. This is the music you listen to on a Friday night with your friends on the way to the bar. Punk rock cheesy songs. That’s it.
So you want to hear about their latest outing? It’s pretty much the same old thing; the inclusion of a couple of twists doesn’t change that. The gist is that it’s a “live” record, supposedly recorded at a Bar Mitzvah. Live it may have been—but at an actual Bar Mitzvah? Let’s just say the disc is a little too contrived for its own good. One can’t help but wonder if the Gimmes went for the unnecessary gimmick for its own sake, perhaps to add spice to a tired shtick. Lord knows the fans don’t need the witty banter between songs, which is kind of funny the first time but ultimately becomes a nuisance when you just want to hear the music.
And as for the music, as you can imagine, it all sounds pretty much the same, no matter how diverse the selection of covers is this time around. I’d be splitting hairs to critique individual tracks, but screw it: here’s the lowdown.
The best efforts on the record are covers of songs so removed from punk that the treatment actually gives them a new life. The classic rock songs, like Styx’s “Come Sail Away” and REO Speedwagon’s “Take It on the Run”, rock the hardest, and at the very least, you could say that the rendition of “Strawberry Fields” is kind of interesting.
Some songs don’t really need to be covered—Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” for one. It’s too easy, even for the Gimmes. “On My Mind” has been covered before, and while it wasn’t a punk rock rendition, you can’t get much better than the cheesy greatness of the Pet Shop Boys’ version.
The more traditional songs like “O Sole Mio”, “Auld Lang Syne”, and “Hava Nagila” are throwaway tracks, although I’ll admit when they played “Hava Nagila” a second time to the tune of “Felis Navidad”, I nearly pissed myself laughing.
That’s what it comes down to, really—how much you like this record depends on how much humor you still have left for this type of stuff. Mine has waned in recent years, but I’ll admit to chuckling a few times as I went through it. The second biggest laugh occurred during the multiple key changes of “Delta Dawn”, when singer Spike’s vocal chords get tested (and ultimately fail).
Despite my relative indifference, I’d still take this over any of the so-called punk bands that MTV wants to serve up. It’s nice to hear a vocalist that doesn’t have the nasal whine that, for some inexplicable reason, is all the rage at the moment. It’s also good to see any money go to the boys at Fat Wreck, who have been dishing out legitimate pop punk for years and soldier on bravely, even as the once great genre becomes increasingly stylized and tarnished. Damn, here I am waxing all serious, and all I meant to do was tell you that the new Me First and the Gimme Gimmes record is good for a few grins.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/mefirst-ruinjonnys/