PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


The Lawrence Arms: The Greatest Story Ever Told

Marc Hogan

The Lawrence Arms

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Label: Fat Wreck Chords
US Release Date: 2003-09-23
UK Release Date: Available as import

Everything you need to know about the Lawrence Arms is painstakingly laid out in their liner notes. No, seriously, everything. Most important, though, are two quotes that serve as tongue-in-cheek epigrams for the Chicago band's third album, The Greatest Story Ever Told. One is from Goethe. The other is from Ghostbusters.

In other words, the Lawrence Arms are the sort of intelligent yet none-too-serious average guys you can't help but root for.

(The Ghostbusters quote, for the curious: "Everything was fine until dickless here cut off the power grid." "Is this true?" "Yes, your honor, this man has no dick.")

The Lawrence Arms' instantly endearing nature is what makes their clever punk rawk ultimately frustrating, however; in the end, their music is so confined within the pop-punk framework that it's unlikely to satisfy anyone not already drawn to that sound. Which is a damn shame, because The Greatest Story Ever Told, while certainly not the greatest story ever told, contains several moments that only a man who was earless and dickless could deny.

The Lawrence Arms' brand of passionate pop-punk follows musically in the vein of fellow Chicagoans the Alkaline Trio and former Fat Wreck Chords labelmates the Ataris. The fatal flaw is that the brainy lyrics cry out for a broader emotional palette, as John K. Samson of hardcore band Propagandhi apparently realized in taking his current group the Weakerthans in an indie-pop direction.

The album's best song, "A Wishful Puppeteer", starts off with a hint of where the Lawrence Arms could take their music: wistful and intimate as a late-August campfire, the first 30 seconds recall "Lucky Charm" from Jets to Brazil's last album. "Time creeps into my dreams," one of the band's two lead vocalists sings, a line they playfully skewer in a "footnote": "This line just fit right. Actually, I think it's pretty lame." The rhythm soon builds into stereotypical turn-of-the-millennium mainstream punk, but the strength of this song's emotion overcomes its lack of musical invention.

On other songs, too, the Lawrence Arms display their gift for the couplet. "I'm not impressed in past tense / I don't do impressions," they proclaim in "Chapter 13: The Hero Appears". And anyone who is ever lived in Chicago will appreciate "We'll all be dead come November / Four months out of every year," from Sunny Day Real Estate-esque opener "Raw and Searing Flesh".

For all the aforementioned pop-punk conventions, it also must be noted that the Lawrence Arms play their punk with considerable guitar chops. Angst-ridden lead-guitar nuances color nearly every song on the album. In other words, this is not blink-182-style punk rock, if you hadn't figured that out by now. (Try to ignore, however, the fact that the two vocalists in the Lawrence Arms have voices that perfectly correspond to the two voices in blink-182. Remember the Everyman vocals of Mark Hoppus on "Dammit" and "What's My Age Again"? And the raspy, nasally punk-boy vocals of Tom DeLonge on "All the Small Things"? Don't all raise your hands at once.)

What other secrets do the liner notes hold? Well, in case the art and song titles don't tip you off, another "footnote" reminds you that The Greatest Story Ever Told is loosely circus-themed. The goofy, throwaway 30-second opening and closing country tracks presumably play into this theme, but in reality they only tantalizingly offer portents of Crooked Fingers-like paths this talented but underutilized punk band could follow. The Lawrence Arms seem destined for a bigger big top, but they'll have to expand their act to get there.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.