John Feldman took some heat for The Knife. Many referred to it as the first John Feldman and Friends album rather than the seventh Goldfinger album. Feldman, the only remaining original member of the band, is now joined by Mike Herrera of MxPx, Phil Sneed formerly of Story of the Year, and, on the album anyway but not usually in concert, Travis Barker of blink-182. That’s a hell of a super group Feldman put together following his messy breakup with original drummer Darrin Pfeiffer the year before.
Feldman does more producing these days than he does performing, and he hit the biggest-of-times producing and co-writing blink-182’s Grammy nominated California. Some have complained that the songs on The Knife sound too much like California rejects. It’s easy to imagine Feldman hanging on to drum tracks from unfinished Blink songs and deciding to use them for himself, particular on “See You Around”, a slower song which actually features Mark Hoppus singing the second verse but is otherwise the most forgettable song on the album, and “Put The Knife Away”, one of the strongest songs here, and what would have been among the strongest song on California.
Still, there are plenty of us simply happy to have a new Goldfinger album, no matter who is playing now. A lot has changed since Goldfinger’s gritty debut-album back in 1996, so indicative of mid-90s punk, very similar to Dude Ranch, really, as far as style and production-quality goes, minus the ska-influence of course. Feldman looks exactly the same as he did in the “Here In Your Bedroom” video, though his voice twenty-one-years earlier is almost unrecognizable.
The Knife opens with “A Millions Miles”, taking off at ludicrous speed just as “Mind’s Eye” kicked off the self-titled album once upon a time. The brief second verse morphs into an upbeat ska feel before hitting the chorus again – “Where did my life go? I just can’t hold it back no more” – followed by a barrage of whoas to take us out; at 2:05, “A Million Miles” is a great opener.
“Get What I Need” is the kind of song the Goldfinger purists are looking for – a straight-forward ska song with horns a-blasting and lyrics filled with nostalgia, drug references, and f-bombs. Later on, “Who’s Laughing Now” is another throwback representing what was so great about ska’s far-too-brief time in the mainstream sun – more horns, more breakneck lyrics, reinventing a line from a classic children’s song (“ashes, ashes, we all fall down”), heys and more whoas, and a pretty sick “This is not the end-o” breakdown.
The cover looks like a Tim Burton movie, but there’s nothing macabre about “Tijuana Sunrise”, one of the singles used to promote The Knife, a slower ska-reggae song, with a great lead-trombone line and a full horn section later on. More nostalgia-themed lyrics here, though now Feldman is focusing on the not-so-good moments, that some things aren’t as good as they used to be – “I’ve been drinking to forget just how good it was, I was drinking with you, then I’m drinking ‘til noon, now I’m drinking by myself”. “Don’t Let Me Go” is the album’s mellow song, a slow and beautiful reggae song again featuring tip-top trombone-playing and possibly Feldman’s best singing ever.
Time for some complaints, though: “Am I Deaf”, the first song released from The Knife back in 2013, sounds far too much like turn-of-the-century Good Charlotte and Sum-41, which personally I can’t stand. “Orthodontist Girl” is only a so-so song without taking into account the freakin’ weird lyrics, i.e. “with your gloves on, it’s like you’re inside me, yeah, it turns me on.” “Liftoff” isn’t a bad song, but it’s way out of place, sort of a reggae song but too overproduced to recognize as one. The lyrics are clever, though, and Nick Hexum guest sings, which is kind of cool because 311 always recorded a reggae song or two for their albums, but overall it doesn’t seem like it belongs. And speaking of lyrics, the chorus for “Say It Out Loud” contains the weakest lyrics on the album – “say it out loud right to my face”, over and over and over again – and the song in general sounds like a poor man’s version of Weezer’s“(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I want You To”, only with a terrible sax solo in the latter half.
As for the ho-hum songs – the good but not overwhelmingly fantastic – I would include “Beacon”, which has possibly the strongest lyrics but musically is, well, ho-hum, and I’d also categorize “Mila” here, a cute song about Feldman’s daughter (remember that Hello, Destiny’s bonus track was “Julian”, about his other kid). Oh and “See You Around,” too, which I earlier described as forgettable because it’s the one song I always forget about.
Still, I say if you can get over the massive lineup overhaul and get past the similarities with the last blink-182 album, this album has more highlights than lowlights. I mean, “Put The Knife Away” is about as strong a pop-punk song as I’ve heard in many, many years, and might be the strongest song on the album. I’m not sure. The Knife has several contenders.