Fat Wreck Chords re-issues a 1998 Screeching Weasel record as part of the band's notorious reunion and in anticipation of a new album. And maybe also so the band can make money.
There were apparently a few reasons for Fat Wreck Chords to rerelease this 1998 album by Screeching Weasel, besides the fact that it may have been just as well forgotten. Beyond the fact that this is the last album the band recorded on that label (though they did a couple more for other labels, Emo and Teen Punks in Heat), and the fact that they have reformed and are touring (without Jughead, the only consistent member other than Ben Weasel, and arguably just as important), there is the reason that five songs were “discovered” that didn’t make it onto the original release. So now we get a fully remixed, remastered, resequenced, repackaged album, just in time for a Weasel revival. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the band and a new album is due in March -- still without Jughead.
The history of Screeching Weasel is pocked with break-ups and reformations, refusals to tour, taunting of fans, and long legal battles. Now it appears Ben Weasel has control of the band and its songs, and Fat Wreck Chords has gone on to release more of its back catalogue. The drama of the band getting back together played out on Twitter feeds, with Weasel all excitement and Jughead all betrayal. On Last Call with Carson Daly, Ben Weasel came clean about his resistance to touring over the years. Apparently, he suffers from agoraphobia (see “Only a Test”, where he sings about panic attacks), but fortunately he has faced his fear and overcome it just when it seems reforming Screeching Weasel may be financially viable.
Punk bands always get criticized by fans for almost every move they make, especially if monetary gain is suspected as a motive, but Weasel is unabashed about the fact that the band is his job and that it should make him money. Weasel’s has never shied from controversy; in fact, he has always maintained his persona as an Archie Bunker of punk (continuing the tradition of Johnny Ramone), baiting left wing punks with his conservatism and religiousness, and this volatility, while often disagreeable and wrong, has made him interesting.
Screeching Weasel was probably the best pop-punk band, since they helped solidify the genre. (The other major contender would be the Queers). They took the Ramones template of fast, short songs with adolescent and humorous lyrics to the extreme: faster, sillier, angrier, you name it. But they never really cashed in on the trend once bands like Green Day and then Blink-182 made it big, so you might say it’s time for them to make a little money.
Now, for the album: Television City Dream is certainly not the finest Screeching Weasel offering. As many of the other records, it has a whole bunch of songs (20), though they are mostly short. But there are very few memorable ones here. Luckily, two of the added tracks number among the best of the bunch: “Video” and “Punk Rock Explained”, both of which poke fun at the successes and failures of punk bands. Most of the lyrics on the album are just uninspired, angry rants that are more embarrassing than funny. The music is for the most part harder, a little less poppy -- more chords, fewer single note weeny-weeny guitar leads from Jughead.
“Speed of Mutation” sounds like a take on the Blink-182 approach to pop-punk, using the basic Screeching Weasel template, but making it sound more commercial. The chugging guitars stretch for long periods at a time, mixed with the Jughead’s trademark guitar note interludes, but Weasel’s nasally whine strains itself. Something feels rushed about the whole song -- and the lyrics about friends who disappoint you are vague. A couple in the more classic Screeching Weasel style are “Dirty Needles”, a short public service announcement about shooting up safely, and “Dummy Up”, a silly song about staying shtum if you’re a spy. These songs are sugary and catchy, but also funny, the winning combination Screeching Weasel perfected.
In ten-plus albums and hundreds of songs, there are inevitably going to be some duds. It’s hard to pinpoint, since the Screeching Weasel formula doesn’t change that much, just slight bumps here and there in production value (this album is clean, with the bass even being sometimes audible, in a Green Day way). It sounds close to a good Screeching Weasel album, but something impalpable makes it not that great. The songs just aren’t there; they lack the sophomoric wit and catchiness of Screeching Weasel’s best.
Above all -- in the punk rock tradition of killing your idols -- this reissue seems to be such an obvious move to make money, to revamp the myth and so on. But cashing in would be better done with a better album. Too bad legal problems limit Fat Wreck Chords to some of the lesser work. Nothing will ever beat the Lookout! Records compilation from 1995, Kill the Musicians, as a testament to the band and a gathering of their best songs. That album commemorated one of the past break-ups of Screeching Weasel -- and as usual ushered in another of the band’s reunions. Let’s see if they survive the release of new material in March.