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The dudes in Sainte Catherines are getting old.
Most people wouldn’t agree, seeing as the band only has about three proper full-lengths under their belt, but if their documentary The Soda Machine is any evidence, these guys have been hard at work in the punk rock scene from way before people actually cared much about them. Then, they wrote the fierce The Art Of Arrogance which led to them being promptly signed by prolific punk label, Fat Wreck Chords. Fat Mike was even quoted as saying, “The Sainte Catherines are ‘lifers’, not just a band, I’d release anything they write”. Their Fat debut, Dancing For Decadence is probably one of the loudest, gruffest and most emotionally heavy albums ever released by the label, and contains a wallop of songs that found The Sainte Catherines carefully swerving back and forth on the line between Midwestern punk rock and emotional hardcore. Now, Fat Mike probably has some explaining to do, because The Sainte Catherines jumped ship and signed to the far smaller, Anchorless Records and began writing their third full-length and the subject of this review, Fire Works.
At first, I must say I was semi- disappointed. Upon first listen my initial sentence stays true: The Sainte Catherines are getting old, hell, they said it themselves in promotion of the album; It’s slower because they have grown up and decided they didn’t want to play heavey anymore. And it shows. You won’t find another “Va Donc Chier” or “The Shape Of Drunks To Come” on this release, even their acclaimed “Confessions of A Revolutionary Bourgeois” would seem a little too heavy for this release. Instead, the album kicks off with the catchiest tune on the album “We Used To Be In Love” which sounds like they’ve been listening to a lot of Gaslight Anthem, or maybe they had Leatherface’s Stormy Petrel on constant rotation while they wrote. Hell, maybe they’ve just been playing as their bluesy country alter ego, Yesterday’s Ring, far too much lately. The far mellower and catchier bounce of their new sound was ridiculously off putting at first, and made the whole album drag for me.
Then, I decided to give it another shot, and after the second spin it was memorable. After three I was singing along. After four I was hooked. And it’s now that I decide that I should write this review, because this album is definitely 2010’s grower of year.
The album kicks in with the brilliant one-two punch of “We Used To Be In Love” and “Better Like This”, possibly two of the strongest tracks on the album. They also set the tone for the album, which seems to be of nostalgia, heartbreak and disappointment, of wanting to give up but struggling not to, themes that ring true in every song. And that’s the thing, this album is really about them getting old. It’s about having to put up with this shit for so long and just wanting it to end but not wanting to give up either, of trying to balance life as a band and life as a person with family and friends and about the sacrifices they’ve had to make. And it really shows. This album doesn’t sound just old, it sounds tired, it sounds bitter, and it’s fucking awesome. Songs like “No Friends”, “So Long & Thanks For Nothing” and “Back To The Basement That I love” may not have the punch that tracks from Dancing For Decadence had but they have their own brand of more collected, cooler energy. The songs may be structurally quieter but I bet that The Sainte Catherines played them just as loud as their older stuff if not louder, this set of songs are clearly more personal than anything else they’ve written. It sounds like a band coming back from a sophomore slump or a bad break up, except they didn’t really have either. The pairing of these more energetic numbers with the far more melancholic tracks like “The Great Somewhere Else” (Possibly the best track on the album; it’s slow trudging start and it’s reinvention of the chorus from “Better Like This” only to slowly and effortlessly fade back into the initial riff probably make it the most intelligent song they’ve written) and “Reinventing Ron Hextall” are what makes this album so complete, so honest and true. Even Hugo’s vocal delivery seems to be one of near defeat, and I mean that in the best way possible. Sure, the album still has its missteps; some of the tracks in the middle like “Maggie & Dave” and “D’You Guys Wanna Fuckin’ Party After This? No.” seem to blend a little and get eaten up by the stronger tracks that surround them. With such a solid repertoire of tracks at the beginning, it does cause the album as a whole to drag a little but right when you think you might be getting tired The Sainte Catherines pick up the ball they dropped with the last four tracks on the release.
Though Fire Works could use some trimming, it’s definitely a solid release. It’s a bit of an exercise to listen to at first, but with a few spins you quickly start hearing what they were trying to do. I, for one, am seriously glad I gave this a second a try because it’s probably one of the most honest punk albums released in recent years, channeling the right amount of all your favorite things. Plus, if you’re at all a fan of these dudes, it will definitely take you back to the basement where you discovered them.
The dudes in The Sainte Catherines may be getting old, but I hope they don’t get tired.