The question that always comes to mind when I hear a new Jeff Rosenstock record is, “How does he come up with all of these wonderful melodies?” Time and time again, the man delivers the catchy goods like no other can. When Vacation was released, I thought it was a beautiful, beautiful fluke. Then I Look Like Shit came along, then We Cool?, and now we have WORRY.— the next logical step in Jeff Rosenstock’s game of chicken with an apparently infinite creative well.
WORRY. is an album that’ll get accolades. We can get that out of the way early. It’s a damn good record. It succeeds in ambition and scope as a sort of left hook when we were all expecting another album of songs about having trouble growing up (although there’s still a little bit of that). The record sprawls in a way that it almost begs us to talk about the structure over the music. It begins in earnest as a typical album, before shifting gears in the latter half to a musical suite.
The songs, however, are a definite return to form of a form I nearly forgot. So much of Jeff’s solo career has been laser focused on himself, Bomb the Music Industry’s political and anti-corporate philosophy almost feel like the tenets of a different person. That’s not to say they were ever abandoned, but the artist can only be known through their art. On WORRY., Rosenstock spits venom. It’s as if it was decided, early in the writing stage of this record, that punk rock was the definite aim. Songs like “Festival Song,” probably one of the best on the record takes umbrage with punk rock becoming a commoditized entity, through fashion and large-scale festivals. Lines like, “this is not a movement, it’s just careful entertainment for an easy demographic in our sweatshop denim jackets,” are just one of the many piercing lyrics that can make us reevaluate the Venn diagram where punk rock and complacency overlap. And ultimately, I think that’s what Rosenstock is primarily trying to do with a song like this. He’s shaking us by the collar and saying, “If we want punk rock to mean something to us we gotta take it from the people who want it to mean money.”
Just how pointed the lyrics are, across the entirety WORRY., is almost a little daunting. I could pick out caustic couplets from any number of the songs on this album, and that’s why it feels so damn punk. This is an angry album. Rosenstock is pissed about classism, slumlords, and how consumer focused society has become. There’s a lot of stuff going on here, and its never delivered in a less than convincing way. Never lapsing into conspiracy theory and self-congratulations, it instead, comes off as sarcastic and a little sad. And maybe that’s why its all the more effective. On “To Be a Ghost…” Rosenstock sings, “Born as a data mine for targeted marketing and no one will listen up until you become a hashtag or a meme.” When I heard that line, I didn’t care about political cabals and dynasties; the depressing truth is the one we opt in to ourselves, every day.
Where WORRY. falters slightly is in one of the same areas it succeeds magnificently. This is without the doubt the most Bomb the Music Industry! record Rosenstock has made since going solo. Bomb is my favorite band, without a doubt, but they weren’t ever faultless. Sharing the politics and ambition of BTMI! also opens WORRY. to some of the same hangups. What’s strange about this record is that it is both cohesive and woefully not. The first half is made up of traditional songs, the type you wouldn’t be surprised to see on any other Jeff album, and then the albums switches up at about the halfway point and offers this amazing suite of short songs (featuring ska, hardcore, and the shout along refrain, “we don’t wanna live inside a hellhole!”). It’s a great album, but at times it feels like two.
I wasn’t sure where WORRY. was going to end up in my personal ranking of Jeff Rosenstock related albums. Maybe, I’m still not sure. The fact remains, that this is a big album of big ideas delivered as viciously as they are catchily. What small faults I can find with the album are the result of the best of intentions. This is an album of chaotic creativity and unbridled talent, less about what punk rock is than what it could be at its best.