Album Review: MxPx – “Plans Within Plans”

Being a punk band with a virtually uninterrupted twenty-year shelf life used to be a rare occurrence. The Ramones did it, the Clash and Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks couldn’t (in their original incarnations, anyway). In fact, few others could pull it off until Bad Religion, Social Distortion and NOFX came around.

Then the rise of “mainstream punk” came along in the 1990s. Suddenly, the list of bands celebrating twenty year anniversaries has increased exponentially. Twenty years used to seem like an eternity; now it seems like a long weekend. For some perspective, Bad Religion’s Generator and NOFX’s Whte Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean were released twenty years ago, but still seem as timely and relevant as ever. Contrast that with twenty years prior (1972 for you non-math punks) when the hot releases of the day included Donny Osmond’s “Puppy Love,” T. Rex’s “Bang A Gong” and Seals & Croft’s “Summer Breeze.” As a teenager in 1992, I distinctly remember each of those sounding not just old, but prehistoric.

2012 finds MxPx celebrating their twentieth anniversary with, among other things, a brand new album, Plans Within Plans, that features the Bremerton, Washintgon, three-piece sounding just as vital as ever. Time has changed some things; the band will no longer tour as the original three-piece (stupid day jobs!), and the lyrics have matured from the confusions of a teenage punk to anthems of the working class and the nostalgia that comes with being a thirty-something looking back over the years.

Album opener “Aces Up” emphatically announces MxPx’s return to the game and immediately reveals their relevance. It’s as intense as anything in their catalog and it’s 95% of a good song. I say 95% because the electronic drum fill injects a little too much “pop” in the pop-punk mix. Think Good Charlotte. “Screw Loose” gets things back on track in classic three-chord street punk style, and totally calls for a video featuring skateboards. Lots and lots of skateboards. Or an overdub of Green Day’s “Basket Case” video. But I digress.

Plans Within Plans is chock-full of tracks that stay true to the youthful energy that is inherent in good pop-punk music while telling stories that prove that it is possible to “grow up” and still be a punk. “The Times” is a good example; a bass-heavy, with ‘fuck authority’ overtones that still finds a place for positivity and optimism: “Every day is better/Than the one before.” “Best Of Times” is a more mid-tempo pop punk track that finds Herrera in a particularly reflective mood, simultaneously coming across as nostalgic of the past and hopeful of the future: “We’re growing up and all that it takes/Is looking forward to better days… I love life now / but those were the best of times.”

A few of the other highlights are “Nothing Left” and “Inside Out” – reminiscent of vintage (read as: good) No Use For A Name. “Nothing’s Gonna Change” has a march quality to it, and the lead riff is on the darker, minor chordy side, which matches the lyrical direction of this particular look in the proverbial mirror. “Far Away” and “In The Past” feature the guitar stylings of Stephen Egerton from the legendary Descendents (Egerton also mixed and mastered the album).

While staying incredibly true to the band’s pop-punk roots, Plans Within Plans is MxPx’s most grown-up work to date. If you grew up with them figuratively in the early-mid 90s (and perhaps drifted away from them after they slowly went the way of the buffalo), this album will fit very nicely into your regular rotation, feeling very relatable in the process. Plus, it won’t leave you feeling incredibly old for singing along to songs about bad hair days and TV anymore!


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