Next time you’re at a show, look around. What do you see? Does everyone look the same as you? Does everyone look like they’ve got everything worked out? Well the truth is no one does. Everyone has the same neurosis, fears and hang-ups. Everyone gets scared. Everyone feels unhappy or lonely sometimes. The one thing you all have in common is the reason you find yourself crammed together in that dark room with the sticky floors and the unmistakable smell of stale sweat and spilled beer. That band or singer that’s just about to take the stage. Think about that rush as the lights dim, and the crowd whistles and cheers. That’s what unites us all because – We. Are. Punks.
A simple, unifying message that forms the basis of the anthemic centerpiece of the title song from the Homeless Gospel Choir’s epic new album. On “Normal”, Derek Zanetti, the man behind The Homeless Gospel Choir offers a precise, succinct statement to the world about what it means to suddenly find yourself part of the all encompassing, life-changing scene that is punk rock. The electric, bright and bouncy pop-punk masterpiece, “Normal” will undoubtedly be the most important song of someone’s adolescence. The song that makes them finally understand that they aren’t alone. They will find solace and inspiration, as Zanetti did, when someone uttered the same immortal and timeless words to him: “You’ll never be normal/ because you’re a punk”. Probably the simplest, most honest and soul-stirring lyric of the year. For the rest of us with adolescence a distant memory it’s a reaffirming nostalgia trip to when you exhausted your first punk album on whatever outdated format you owned it. A song that so eloquently sums up why you’re here and why you’re reading this.
Every lyric on this album describes a life lived and is equally as relatable as “Normal”. Whether it be the acoustic, folk punk of “Depression” which serves as an anthem for those who find themselves in their 30s with life not quite turning out as they hoped, to the free-wheeling pop-punk of “Crazy”. With a fuller sound, featuring a crisp, lead guitar line from Frank Lero, on “Crazy”, Zanetti brutally honestly details his exasperated attempts to properly express himself with the song, appropriately sounding like the valve loosening on his own personal, emotional pressure cooker. “Everyone” is a sparse yet equally affecting song as Zanetti channels his inner Billy Bragg to balance politically astute yet droll observations on how the world is made up of individuals but how every difference should be valued and treasured.
Musically, “Normal” sees Zanetti painting with a varied palette, unafraid to incorporate a variety of musical styles. From the slow burning, Frank Turner-esque folk of “Don’t Know” through to the Americana of “Sometimes” and the rousing melancholy of “Alright”. Every song feels like it’s own separate vignette, with it’s own self-analysis, drama and most importantly wit. It is this even-footed ability to judge sharp humor and intelligent observation that makes this the defining album that it is. The same is true of the more recognizable pop-punk songs such as “1983”, a fist-raising, rocker that shares a lot in common with the hook filled, anthemic self-deprecation of Pup. Once again the song finds Zanetti sitting idly at life’s crossroad, frustrated and hamstrung by his own perceived lack of progress in life.
“Normal” is one of those rare albums that manages to stir and amuse, with songs that impress on the listener with issues that are instantly relatable. They highlight the insecurities that are in all of us that, more than anything else, bind us together. With that in mind, next time you’re at a show maybe you should take the time to talk to someone nearby. After all, you’ll definitely have at least one thing in common.