Thursday, June 5, 2008

Derivative Is What We Aim For

I suppose it's an open secret that Green Day is back under the nom de plume ...

Foxboro Hot Tubs -- Stop Drop and Roll!!! (recorded and mixed by Chris Dugan)

After dipping a big toe into the treacherous waters of respectability by becoming a Very Important Band with a Very Important Concept Album, the members of Green Day probably needed this busman's holiday. The politically charged American Idiot from 2004 energized the band artistically, but probably began to feel like a straitjacket as they toured, constricting and restricting them with its seriousness. Clearly something looser was called for as a follow-up.

So like many bands before them feeling similar pressure, Green Day took a trip back to what made them love rock & roll in the first place and reinvented themselves as Nuggets-era garage punks Foxboro Hot Tubs, with a sound not a million miles away from the one heard on early GD albums like 39/Smooth or Ker-Plunk. It's a move reminiscent of John Lennon recording 1950s classics on Rock and Roll, David Bowie's Pin-Ups, or The Band on Moondog Matinee.

But Stop Drop and Roll!!! isn't a covers album per se. The "original" tunes are cheerful rewrites and out-and-out swipes from some of Green Day's primary influences. In that way, the project this most resembles is XTC morphing into the Dukes of Stratosphear to immerse themselves in the psychedelia that inspired them. It also bares some similarities to what the Donnas did last year on their marvellous Bitchin' album when they ditched all pretention to serious musical progression and happily wallowed in the 1980s Hair Metal they love.

It's that kind of love and sheer enthusiasm that carry the (green) day on Stop Drop and Roll!!! The boys are having a whale of a time and it comes through on every low-tech track.

In an increasingly common move, the band offered half of the tracks on the new album as free downloads on their myspace page (with the official release of the record, that offer has ended), as well as one song that didn't make the final cut, "Highway 1" (see below).

So once the (tiny) mystery of identity is solved, the game becomes Spot The Reference. Some are easier than others. On "She's a Saint, Not a Celebrity" the Tubs lift Eddie Cochrane's "Summertime Blues" riff, a favorite of late 1960s garage proto-punks like Blue Cheer, not to mention The Who. "Red Tide" bares more than a passing resemblance to the Kinks of "Tired of Waiting for You," a track that GD itself once covered and released on its 2001 outtakes collection Shenanigans. While "Sally" might call to mind the Monkees circa "I'm Not Your Stepping Stone."

Some references are a bit more obscure. For example, the Jeff Beck-powered Yardbirds are at the core of "Dark Side of Night," a song that could nestle snugly on the soundtrack of an Antonioni film.

Stop Drop and Roll!!! continues a mini-trend of artists tossing the digital recording facilities out the window in favor of more organic production. In the wake of similarly recorded albums by the Breeders and Elvis Costello, it seems that in at least one small corner of the music world, frustration has set in with a ludicrous level of technology that serves to mask talentlessness rather than showcasing talent. It might be fine for bland pop, but rock & roll benefits from having the wires exposed and sparking.

The benefits are clear on Stop Drop and Roll!!!; high energy, no-frills rock & roll with a sly sense of humor. It's always welcome, no matter what name it goes under.

3 1/2 stars.

Note: The video below is a fan mash-up set to the track omitted from the official Stop Drop and Roll!!! release, "Highway 1."

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