The Lawrence Arms
I must be extremely hard headed - my skull so thick that not much leeches in and certainly no insights are allowed to escape. I seem to need constant reminders to mentally engage with life. Even when I do make an effort to sort out important aspects that I have allowed to lag, all the other stuff gets all dusty and disheveled. It’s an endless cycle that generally winds up with me giving up all efforts out of feelings of futility and letting everything around me decay for awhile. Once I wake up again and give it another go, I find myself further behind and less likely to be inspired to reach whatever lofty and elusive goals I set for myself.
Life always feels so fleeting and disposable. I spend way too much time focusing on the emptiness I often feel about how fast and difficult things always seem, and lose focus on actually living what little time I have available. What is the point of life? Is there one? Things continue on – people die just as more are born and each generation continue to make the same mistakes over and over again as everything is eventually forgotten. Similarly, I find myself continually sinking into patterns, repetition, and lethargy as the days pass and turn into weeks and months and then years. It seems I need to be reminded that I hate feeling complacent and barely aware of another year passing by. Yet, here I am - still hoping to get myself sorted out and find a direction that doesn’t overwhelm me with stress and frustration – right where I started.
The Lawrence Arms have always understood this. They shook me out of my state of sorrow and self-pity back in 2003 with their amazing album The Greatest Story Ever Told (see why here) and now nearly eight years after their shredding last album (2006’s Oh! Calcutta! – my #1 pick of the year seen here), they’ve returned to kick my sagging ass with their sixth full length Metropole. Much like The Greatest Story, Metropole is a unified work. Every song hints at the passage of time and the struggle to keep one’s spirit alive at least as long as our bodies.
A sample snippet of the closing track, “October Blood,” opens the album with the line: “I was born and I died, and just a moment went by” and it serves as the de facto thesis for what the next 30 or so minutes of punk rock have in store. Both Brendan Kelly and Chris McCaughan are clearly agitated by the realization that all of those dreams and goals of the young all wind up futile and lost. The first verse of “You Are Here” – the first sneak peak we had of this album in December begins with: “Where you are is where you are / and it’s just the way it is / days keep rolling on / they won’t miss me much when I’m gone.” The wash, rinse, repeat dominance of our lives is a constant target throughout (“most days I take the train from here to there / then back to here” – from “You Are Here”). The shouted vocal of the rousing “Hickey Avenue” urges us to “get rolling out of this shitty yellow light / ‘cuz we’ve been droning through this endless parade of identical days / nothing changes / it only rots away,” as they are trying to wake us up: “What are we doing here? Nothing. That’s what’s killing me!” Elsewhere, in “Acheron River” (or ‘river of woe’ for the ancient Greeks), Brendan sings “I’m just on this train and stuck in several thousand different ruts” as he teeters on the edge of giving it all up completely (“take me down to the river / take me to where all the poisons flow / and let’s ride this fucker home”). Fittingly, this rambunctious, yet fatalistic song is followed by even more fatality. “Metropole,” which opens quietly, as Chris strums an acoustic guitar and sings of “years on repeat” and “years of defeat,” while Brendan steps in with the line “the traffic lights blinked a million times / I blinked twice and twenty years went by” before they both repeat at the conclusion “This is the end of all things.”
The end of all things indeed, as a dark “Raskolnikovian Gloom” ( see Dostoyevski’s Crime and Punishment) takes over the middle third of the album, as Brendan’s explosive, could give a shit rant “Drunk Tweets” slaps anyone and everything in sight with loads of ‘F-you’s’ as he cuts down our society’s waste and blind belief in ignorance, before concluding that we’re shooting ourselves down as a whole – “but there’s no unraveling the rings of the tree / Lord keep my soul…the fuck away from me.” Then, Chris’ “The YMCA Down the Street from the Clinic” guides us through a melancholic tour through more moral decay and emptiness (“Back when I was a boy there were okay ways to go / but baby, I got old / and somewhere I ditched my soul”).
There is a lot to take in here. The Lawrence Arms have always exorcised major demons in their expertly performed songs, but usually with a lot of humor and cynicism. But this one, after the first few listens, brought back all of my memories of being a little kid sitting in the bathtub with plastic boats floating around me and imagining only blackness after death and becoming inconsolable. But there are moments of light that eventually come through. The aforementioned call to action in the fitful “Hickey Avenue” shows signs of life. And though “Seventeener” dwells on the sudden realization of getting old (when, let’s face it, if we’re 40 or 50, or whatever, there’s still a big part of us inside that feels like the same little kid we always were inside. Somewhere along the line, we miss our own passage of time); he still manages to find a way to restart – even if it means going back to writing ‘teenage’ poetry. In “Beautiful Things,” Chris also finds solace in his desire and passion for writing songs as a way to search for “truth in the dust.” Meanwhile, in “Paradise Shitty,” (they continue their occasional Guns and Roses song re-titling) the fight against complacency is handled by hurtling oneself into life and not worrying about dangers and potential consequences. Luckily, the album closes with the most uplifting song. “October Blood” brings us back to the beginning: “I was born and I died and just a moment went by,” but instead of dwelling on this tragic notion as much of the album, Chris defiantly states in the chorus “I burn on / I burn on / endless summer in my heart,” as he takes the time to take in the beauty and majesty of what we do have in life - which is probably the simple answer to the meaning of life question: do your best to enjoy it while you can.
"Seventeener (17th and 37th)"