Album Review: MXPX – “MXPX”

Album Review: MXPX – “MXPX”

Defining a full-length studio album as one comprised of mostly, if not entirely, new and original material, here are some bands who have NOT yet released ten proper full-length studio albums: Descendents, Lagwagon, blink-182, The Offspring, Less Than Jake, Strung Out, Rancid. (Bands that have? NOFX, Bad Religion, Pennywise, Green Day, Screeching Weasel, The Ramones…) Longevity does not necessarily go hand-in-hand with greatness, but, still, you gotta be doing something right to make it to ten full-lengths. And now MxPx has joined the club.

Distortion as Tom plugs in his guitar before Mike picks a rippin’ Matt Freeman-esque bass line which cascades down before Yuri’s ever-so-quick fill ushering in the full band (a quartet now) on power chords outlining the harmonic progression the rest of the song will be built upon before a machine-gun drum fill takes the song into breakneck speed as the bass continuously climbs up and down…pause…“3 AM on a Monday, rolling strong!” If Mike Herrera doesn’t get enough credit as one of punk rock’s premier bassists, he certainly doesn’t get enough credit as a song-writer. “All we want is a Friday night that will treat us right and if we don’t feel like we’ve got it right there’s always next weekend.” Guitarist Tom Wiesnewski allegedly had to campaign heavily for “Rolling Strong” to open the album, and he has never been more right.

“All Of It” is next and is simpler harmonically and rhythmically – fans of less complicated punk rock a la The Queers and old Lillingtons will appreciate that. The refrain came from a common exchange between Herrera and his daughter – “How much of your love do you think I need? All of it!” – but the song has been re-worked into a more general all-encompassing love song.

Back in the day, MxPx used to knock it out of the park with sappy pop-punk love songs like “Do Your Feet Hurt” and “The Final Slowdance,” but there’s something about love songs written by thirty- or forty-year-old happily married people that doesn’t resonate quite the same way, which perhaps partially explains why “Lucky Guy” was the weakest song on their last album, Plans Within Plans. But with “All Of It” and later track “Disaster” the band happens upon the precise formula to write “love” songs without making old married guys like me roll their eyes. “I’m such a disaster for you,” sings Herrera. “No one else can run faster for you.” Brilliant poetry? Maybe not, but it’s pretty great, especially leading into the bridge: “I had the best time with you, running ‘round the house all laughing, wishing this moment was forever lasting, and then I find myself calling you.”

And that’s it…2 songs about the ladies is enough.

The nostalgia theme is prominent throughout.  “The Way We Do” cites incidents with Face To Face, Simple Plan, and Bad Religion, all bands with whom MxPx toured during the first half of their tenure. But nostalgia is best exemplified in the album’s first single “Let’s Ride”, as well as in the accompanying music video, which was instantly hailed by the die-hards as one of MxPx’s all-time best videos. The lyrics of “Let’s Ride” has sort of a Sinatra “When I Was Seventeen” feel to it; stanzas begin with “About the time that I turned 14”, “About the time that I turned 16”, “By the time that I turned 19”, and “There I was at 29”. The beat keeps the tune upbeat, but one gets the impression it could easily be rearranged as a ballad.

In “Moments Like This”, nostalgia and reflection is further expounded upon, though not so much in the “I-wish-I-was-still-young” kind of way, but more like “I’m glad those things happened, but I’m happy where I am right now.” Mike says it better: “it’s moments like this that I’m gonna miss when I’m dead and gone and I can’t kiss my kids. Will they look up to the sky and think about me?”

“Uptown Streets”, while a fine track, is the one song on the album that doesn’t rock hard. Herrera even acknowledged in an interview that while it was one of the band’s favorites, he doubted it would become a fan favorite. The chorus in particular has a hint of a country twang to it, seeping from Herrera’s fondness for country music that inspired his former side project Tumbledown.

This is as good a time as any to reluctantly address that this album is also annoyingly notable for being the first time the band has used quote-unquote swear words (assuming we ignore “pissed” on Panic, “to hell” on a Secret Weapon b-side, and “fuck off” in their cover of a Screeching Weasel song, in addition to their live appearances over the last ten-plus years). This is annoying not really to the fault of the band’s but because of the amount of attention a small but vocal group of fans, or former fans, give Herrera’s use of “big-ass” in the album opener, or for saying “goddam” while quoting the movie “Friday” in track number three. MxPx hasn’t written a Christian lyric since a 2004 compilation-only track but still when I download their albums onto iTunes the genre listed is “religious” (How the hell is “religious” a genre, anyway? What does that sound like?). If this was a movie, it would still be rated PG. Personal preferences aside, if this barely offensive language is surprising, you haven’t been paying attention.

Enough of that crap…

If ever you need a reason to smile, check out “20/20 Hindsight”. No introduction in this one, the song is begun with the voice: “I’m panicking…” and we’re off! This is the classic fast skate-punk beat MxPx perfected at a young age on their classic album Life In General. All of a sudden the listener is made to wonder, are these guys still teenagers?

Speaking of teenagers, MxPx did some of their best philosophizing back then in songs “Sometimes You Have To Ask Yourself”, “My Mom Still Cleans My Room”, “Correct Me If I’m Wrong”, and two years later in “Invitation to Understanding.” It would have been easy to roll your eyes at these kids’ arrogance at giving advice on how to live one’s life. The driving “Life Goals” is lyrically in the same vein while also acknowledging twenty years has passed since much of their best-known stuff was written: “tribute the past, live a life of no regret. Repair the mast that sails us true and holds us fast, and it’s good to have life goals.” And: “failed to notice, way off course, made the freight run despite the bad discourse, all the way to hell like a tour de force.”

MxPx hasn’t been much a political band since they they didn’t know what they were talking about back in high school. Still, it’s hard not to be political these days; the band released “They”, a stand-alone single, leading up to the 2016 election, which indicted the entire system. Here, MxPx gets political again in “Pipe Dreams”, a fast punk song similar in feel to “20/20”, with the brilliant line “Faced with a nation divided, engaged in reality Star Wars,” and “Infrastructure and pipeline, now lay broken supply lines. My vision is too clear, all this hate must be fear.”

Six years have passed since MxPx’s last full-length. Not long after, Tom and Yuri both retired from touring (Mike hired three other guys to back him up). It looked doubtful there would ever be another MxPx album. But perhaps the time apart was what the long-time trio needed to continue; as the band seems to agree, “MxPx is fun again.” Talks of new music in the works began last year, but it wasn’t until this past spring that MxPx launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund what would become their self-titled tenth full-length album. They exceeded their $50,000 goal in less than twenty-four hours, and this summer delivered a brand new album worthy to stand beside their Life in the Buffalo Moment era recordings.

And they did it by themselves. Self-produced and self-released, the video updates consistently emphasized that they were making a record on “our terms”. I don’t understand the big deal; they’ve actually done everything on their terms since 2009, self-producing and self-releasing an EP, a full-length, an acoustic album, a live album, and several other smaller releases. But whatever the difference is this time around, whatever made them feel free, they sound rejuvenated. They sound “fun again.” Look no further than the cover art; the Pokinatcha Punk, who has been used in some form or another on most of their releases going back to 1994, has never looked happier.

When compared to the most recent albums by other bands of similar longevity, this album blows those other ones out of the water. Strung Out’s last four albums, not counting their latest acoustic release, have basically sounded the same. Less Than Jake has been so-so since Hello Rockview. NOFX’s last album was pretty good but that followed a couple of mediocre releases. Pennywise put out an album earlier this year, stylistically exactly the same as Full Circle and Straight Ahead, and sill their faithful remain dissatisfied. 

MxPx’s new and self-titled effort, on the other hand, rates very high on the fresh-factor scale, which is no small feat for a band that’s been around twenty-five years. Mike Herrera is a phenomenal song-writer, as good as any of the frontmen who have been luckier with more success. Twenty years ago “Friday Tonight” would have been a huge hit. The bridge in “Life Goals” is chills-worthy. “Let’s Ride” and “Moments Like This” are nostalgic punk rock perfection. Generally some significance is implied when bands self-title an album, either blatant or anticipated. Here’s hoping MxPx’s intention isn’t a farewell.

4.5/5 (I had to dock it half a star for having only 11 songs because I’m greedy and always want more)

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