One of the very first punk CD’s I bought was Me First and the Gimme Gimmes’ Have a Ball. In retrospect, it was an odd place for me to start, but it catered to my love of oldies and the melodic punk sound I had just begun to discover. And honestly, despite the irreverence surrounding the band’s concept, it is indeed a valid and worthy torchbearer for that sweet 90’s sound. Are We Not Men? We Are Diva! proves that nothing the Gimme Gimmes have to offer can be a disappointment, so long as the song selection is solid and the fun is still palpable. And as always, the answer is a resounding yes to both.
When I was a disco loving early adolescent, “I Will Survive” was one of my favorite tunes, as I was incredibly, incredibly lame. Here, the band give the song the classic Me First and the Gimme Gimmes tribute, ramping up its speed and filling it in with chugged power chords and skate punk leads. It’s awesome, and slaps my nostalgia in all the right places, leaving it a flushed, hot and bothered mess.
But, before I get too far down the line exalting the virtues of each individual song, I’ve got to throw out some major props to resident vocalist Spike Slawson. This dude can sing. Like, really sing– not just punk sing. He croons with the best of them, displaying amazing technical ability throughout the entirety of Are We Not Men? We Are Diva! To really be able to sell a lot of these songs, especially when your theme is ‘divas,’ you’ve got to be able to deliver the vocal prowess. Hearing Spike belt out “I Will Always Love You” is magical, and wouldn’t have been as nearly as good if he didn’t have the chops to go up against the vocally challenging original.
The Gimme Gimmes get playful on some of tracks, auto-tuning Spike’s voice a la Cher on “Believe” to great effect. Their cover of “My Heart Will Go On” is a sped up folk tribute sonically reminiscent of the recent crop of bluegrass and folk punk that has started to seep into Fat Wreck’s roster. These turn out to be welcome transgressions, even if their straight covers are impeccable, an album still begs to be listened to as a whole and a little sonic variation adds some excitement across the affair.
My favorite song on Are We Not Men? We Are Diva! is their cover of the Christina Aguilera classic, “Beautiful.” The original is a quintessential diva song, to me at least, as it exists to showcase the vocal chops and passion of its original performer through the vessel of a disposable pop music message. By transforming it into a punk song, it is born of new attributes. The song is now self-aware of its cloying message, but defiantly earnest at the same time. When it gets to the bridge, it transcends into another world. The vocals are of a call-and-response style, with Fat Mike shouting the back-ups, it makes for some gorgeous juxtaposition to Slawson’s honey coated vocal cords. In that moment the song feels as urgent as any ‘real’ punk rock ever could.
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes are a fun band. And Are We Not Men? We Are Diva! is a crazy fun record. Look past the concept and silliness surrounding it, there are some seriously talented musicians at work. It’s a shame that for the most part it’ll be disregarded and swept under the carpet in favor of more serious releases, because this might just be one of the most competent records released this year. Give it a spin, have a laugh remembering that one song you heard on the radio years ago. Sing-a-long. Just have a good time. Me First and the Gimmes Gimmes aren’t trying to do anything but let you have some fun. So, for God’s sake, let them do their job.