Reviewing a reissued album can be a formidable task. When that album is by a band that were hugely influential to your formative ‘punk rock listening’ years, it becomes even more daunting to try to remain something resembling objective. Such is my task for the recent reissue of Lagwagon’s 1997 album “Double Plaidinum.” The album was not the one that started it all for the band, and not that helped pioneer a sound and a movement. “Double Plaidinum” is, in fact, the fourth album from the seminal Santa Barbara punks, and the first to feature current drummer Dave Raun and guitarist Chris Rest. Start to finish, however, the thirteen tracks that make up the original release are arguably the band’s best.
You’ve all heard the original album, so this isn’t a review of the baker’s dozen tracks that appeared on the original release. The remastered tracks all sound great; crisp and clean with punchier guitars and full sounds emanating from the rhythm section. In short, the way that they were intended to be heard.
It’s the outtakes and rarities that make-or-break any reissue, and they are a slam dunk, home run, touchdown on “Double Plaidinum.” Several of the tracks are punched-up versions of songs that appeared on 2000′s “Let’s Talk About Leftovers,” itself a 74-minute, twenty-five song opus of outtakes, covers, b-sides and other miscellaneous rarities. Songs like “Brodeo,” and “Raise A Family” are underrated gems that really should have appeared on studio albums previously, allowing the masses a chance to hear and appreciate them. “Restrain” is a crunchy, Sabbathian guitar fest that isn’t mastered quite to the same level as the original tracks. The original mix of “Twentyseven” is pretty close to the original, though the bass is a little more hidden in the background, and the snare sounds a little tighter, giving the track more of a live sound.
Two cover outtakes are included: the Devo classic “Freedom Of Choice” and the Scorpions epic “No One Like You.” The former is a surprisingly true-to-the-original (minus the synth elements) rendition, while the latter is one of the goddamned creepiest things you will ever hear. The spoken-word verses will leave you needing an Elizabeth-Shue-in-”Leaving-Las-Vegas” style shower; the lyric changes in the second verse specifically will have any mandated reporters out their lunging for the phone.
Which brings us to the acoustic tracks (nice segue there, eh?). The reissue of “Double Plaidinum” is wrapped up by five acoustic renditions. People are pretty used to Joey Cape’s acoustic solo career at this point, and he has make a habit of “covering” Lagwagon songs in the past, but these versions are very different than standard Cape fare. “Alien 8,” which Cape also covered on his 2004 split with Tony Sly, is a full band performance with great instrumentation (though Cape doesn’t really change the way he approaches the vocals, so the song does sound a tad disjointed). “Making Friends” gets turned into a piano-driven ballad with more understated vocals; Cape’s voice is downright delicate in some areas. “Goodbye” starts like it would be a solo acoustic tune, but Caper is joined by piano and strings that provide a haunting background that gives the already-somber lyrics an incredible depth and weight. This really is a beautiful track. The “Double Plaidinum” redux comes to a close with a rousing, mandolin-led, Springsteenified version of “To All My Friends” that features Caper dueting with Jon Snodgrass on vocals. This song would feel right at home accompanied by a bodhran or two, belted out in a Guinness-and-Jameson soaked pub.
Having had a chance to give the whole Lagwagon reissue boxed set a preliminary listen, I feel confident in saying that “Double Plaidinum” is the best of the bunch (my review of “Trashed” will follow in a few days). The band really did a great job adding tunes that sound like they could have easily appeared on the original album, and supported it with a few alternate versions that are truly more than just acoustic covers but are in fact dynamic reinterpretations. If you’re only going to spring for one reissue from the Lagwagon set, make it “Double Plaidinum.”