Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Something Fierce is, well, fierce!
It's been three-and-a-half years since I've reviewed or even heard a new LP. Yeah, really! In the ensuing years, I met a girl, fell in love, bought a house, converted to Catholicism, got married, started shopping at Old Navy, digitalized my music collection, and turned 40. I listened to a lot of old music. And at then at some point, thanks to Facebook and whatnot, I became aware of really good new music I was missing. So here we are again. Hope you've all been well! I departed a big fan of Something Fierce, and I return an even bigger fan of Something Fierce. I've never heard an album before that sounds quite like Don’t Be So Cruel. Still influenced by '77 punk rock, Something Fierce somehow progressed their sound and got even poppier. But while evolving from straight-up punk to a more new wave styled sound has been done by a lot of bands, Something Fierce has done it very differently. Don't Be So Cruel doesn't sound "moody" or "dark" or "cold" or "weird". Imagine instead the album The Clash could have made after London Calling if they'd ditched the dub and rap experimentations in favor of a more contemporary new wave pop direction. Yet somehow, the album feels contemporary to these times as well. It's classic and modern all at once, and after three albums Something Fierce has clearly established a distinctive sound. Steven Garcia's melodic style of guitar playing has taken on new dimensions of texture and sophistication. And Niki Sevven is totally out of her mind on bass, coming on with bouncy, funkified hooks like she's Paul Simonon, Dave Allen, and Bruce Foxton all rolled into one. But while both players are exceptional on their own, what's even cooler is the way they play off of each other and blend their guitars as if they were dual leads. Taking on lyrical subject matter pertinent to the sad state of humanity and the mess we've made of the world, Something Fierce come off here not as Clash copyists, but more so their true successors. And this is what the world's been missing - a band that can opine on worldly issues without spouting clichéd slogans, and a band that understands that the message is meaningless if the songs aren't great.
Ah yes, the songs! No longer simply catchy and melodic, the songs of Something Fierce have grown more complex and overtly pop in structure. The melodies are stronger and more pronounced, and there's just a lot more happening musically. No one's gonna stop playing the delightful co-ed Buzzcocks meets Marked Men blitzkrieg of the earlier records, but admittedly the controlled tempos here give the songs more room to breathe. A quirky, jerky feel is accentuated by the addition of keyboards, but it never goes overboard. This is fully a guitar/bass driven record, with Garcia's leads and Sevven's bass lines hooking you in at every turn. Early on, songs like "Future Punks" and "Afghani" Sands" take an '81-'82 Clash vibe and make something genuinely great out of it, while "When You Hurt" is the best Northern soul number you've heard in decades (if only the Style Council could have been this good!). The back half of the album takes on a poppier feel and is equally good. If "Bad Choice" were any catchier, the CDC would ban it. And "Dying Young These Days" typifies the evolution of Something Fierce. Clocking in at nearly five minutes and imbued with kind of an introspective sadness, it's a very "grown-up" sounding take on Buzzcocks-influenced pop.
Something Fierce has made a special kind of record here. It's full of heart, intelligence, and passion; and it really tries to say something about the world we live in. Yet it retains the sense of fun and unrestrained joyfulness that have oozed from every note this band has ever played. I haven't really had a current "favorite band" since the Dimestore Haloes broke up. Something Fierce could be a serious candidate!