[15 November 2004]
Maybe I’m just projecting here, since my friends and I are all turning 25 this year, but I’ll be damned if Not Economically Viable, the third album from pop-punk reliables the Methadones, isn’t a great mid-20s crisis (really, “crisis”) album. The band knows the territory, too: their last album, 2003’s Career Objectives, featured a tune called “Premature Mid-Life Crisis”. Led by Dan Schafer (aka Screeching Weasel’s Dan Vapid), with bassist Pete Mittler, drummer Mike Soucy, and guitarist Mike Byrne filling out the band (all of whom, it must be noted, are in their 30s), the Methadones are that increasingly rare breed of down-n-dirty punks, guys who are more comfortable in the garage than they are in the mall—more Green Day than blink-182. They play hard and fast, with no bells or whistles (literal or figurative), and with Not Economically Viable, they’ve turned in their tightest batch of tunes yet.
But back to the notion of the twentysomething crisis album. I don’t know if Schafer’s ever held a regular nine-to-five job, but he perfectly paints corporate culture and the ennui that accompanies getting fired from one’s first “real world”, post-collegiate job (ya know, the one where you learn that life is a bitch) on album opener “Bored of Television”: “Yesterday I had a job, but then Andy and the two Bobs / Wanted to speak with me / The department was low in productivity / ‘We have some bad news’ / ‘We’ve terminated your employment’... / Now I just sit on the couch, laid off like the rest / And I’m bored of television, but I’m always keeping it on”.
The press packet accompanying Not Economically Viable claims that the album is loosely based on the Michael Douglas film Falling Down (better late than never, I suppose, for a Falling Down concept album), but the album’s not so much based on job dissatisfaction and the Fall of the White Male as it is about the world not going according to plan. Indeed, I quoted the album’s lone lyrical mention of a job above. Nothing seems to be going right for Schafer’s narrator; song titles like “Mess We Made”, “Less Than Zero”, and “What Went Wrong” sum up failed expectations.
And, of course, the album’s full of “girl problems”—that’s pop-punk’s bread and butter, after all. “Annie” is about a troubled girl who “had so many problems that she kept from everyone”; meanwhile, on “Suddenly Cool”, Schafer laments a female friend whom he no longer recognizes after she falls in with the hipster crowd: “Dyed your hair black, bought horned rimmed glasses to match / and a whole new circle of friends”.
Admittedly, the band is wallowing in pity, and normally, pity and rock music don’t always match up well. The Methadones don’t find any easy answers to their “growing-up problems” waiting for them at the end of Not Economically Viable, because there aren’t any. And, to their credit, Schafer and Co never actually sound pitiful on Not Economically Viable; no whiners they. The album is a dozen high-octane punk songs; the Methadones do one thing and they do it well. At album’s end, the band has resigned (for lack of a better term) to keep on keeping on. If the lyrics suggest despair, the breakneck guitar and tight rhythm section point to musical catharsis, music as salvation. Sings Schafer on closer “Straight Up Pop Song”, “music means a lot to me”. Nobody said being 25 was easy, but if the members of the Methadones can survive, so can the rest of us.