The first fulll length album from the Descendents in 8 years, since the incredible Everything Sucks. It's a half hour of the band's typical caffeine punk, and certainly lives up most of the expectations I had of it.
The Descendents have quite a legacy to live up to, after their amazing first album Milo Goes to College. The Band have been through lineup changes repeatedly over their long history (the band formed in 1978, but played less heavy surf rock before Milo joined in 1980) but the current lineup has been stable since Everything Sucks. The only release since that was the EP 'Merican, which essentially served as a taster for this release. The lineup for the album is:
The album opens in storming form with Talking. The strong riffs and characteristic drums are there just as they were on Everything Sucks, and Milo's vocals are spot on again. The song is, typically enough, a love song (the band haven't had a record without love songs since the Fat EP back in the early eighties) apparently about a relationship breakup. I don't know how autobiographical the song is, but Milo has been quoted as saying that Eunuch Boy is the only fictional song he's ever written (that song involved a lawnmower. I'll leave the rest up to your imagination). I thought that Milo was in a stable marriage*.. even so, there are some excellent lyrics here, including a good bastardisation of the chorus tune towards the end: "Well I go yaddada yadda yah / and you go yaddada yadda yah / yaddada yadda yah that's what we gotta do"**. Nothing with You was on the 'Merican EP, and was available on the Fat Wreck site for months before the album, but it's still a good taster of what the rest of the album is like. She Don't Care is another of the usual girls don't like me song - "I gave her everythings I've got / and she don't care". 'Merican is also on the aforementioned EP (durrr...) but is a good change, in that it's political rather than what heathens might consider the usual whiny stuff. Reminds me of "Caught" on Everything Sucks...
The Dog and Pony Show is a great track of feeling out of place at a show - including the excellent lines "There's a lot of pretty girls here looking tight / they're not good girls but they're good for the night / they tell me to buzz off / well that's okay because I never liked 'em anyway". Definitely one of the top songs on the album, for my money. Up next is a throwback to the Enjoy! days of toilet humour to the max, namely Blast Off. Imagine a song about the dangers of spicy food. Include how you need to "treat the spider with a little respect / it takes the heat, it's gonna bite back!". Include lyrics of "Blast off at Cape Canaveral / toilet seat is your launching pad". Now stop imagining. Yes, this song does have some fairly.. interesting imagery but it serves as a good antidote to the more serious bits of the album.
Dreams is a more slow song, fairly demure in tone, about not taking your dreams to heart or you will "end up getting burned". Next up is the title trac, Cool to Be You (for those with short memories). I'd rate it as the second best song on the album, from the excellent beginning of just Milo singing "I don't believe in unity / (band kicks in here) it's just one more abandoned dream". If I was deciding which song I would've named the album after, this would have to be it, as the problem with the best song is that there is already an album with the same name. By ALL, the Descendents' sister band. It wouldn't go down well.
Maddie is probably the weakest track on the album, simply because musically it doesn't really go anywhere. It seems the chords and feel change every set of bars, and there is just not a lot of structure. It has grown on me since I first heard it, but it really does still sound a bit odd. The next song, however, is the best I've heard for ages, Mass Nerder. It begins with a defiantly hardcore bass strum, before rolling into classic old skool descendents style riffs and a breakneck speed beat. Both the song's musical style and theme reach back to Milo Goes to College - it's about Milo's years in school, being the class nerd. "See I got these glasses / so I'll never be cool / always get my ass kicked / when I got to school" is a recurring line, and the singalong chant of "Gonna kick their asses in class" is great. If it wasn't for ALL having released an album with the same name, this should have been the title track. Absolutely outstanding.
The last four tracks on the album, namely One More Day, Tack, Anchor Grill and Dry Spell are all fairly good, but I feel they don't really stand out compared to the tracks in the first two thirds of the thing. The songs are all fairly low, downbeat, and while they do have some interesting moments between them, there's not much to describe about them.
The only real problem with this album is that it's by the same people (mostly) who did Milo Goes to College and Everything Sucks. While discussion is still going on as to which of those is the best, it's undeniable that those two albums form a significant part of pop-punk's history, and it's present. Cool to Be You, while a very good album, is up to the standard of neither of it's more famous predecessors. By any more recent, lessor known band this album would have been regarded as truly excellent, but we know the Descendents can do better.
Not that this should discourage people from buying it, as it's a good CD and has some cracking songs. It also has the obligatory picture of cartoon Milo on what looks like squared paper for the cover (what Descendents record would be complete without him?). It's worth buying for Mass Nerder, Cool to Be You and Talking, anyway. Let's just hope that the band don't leave us waiting another 8 years for the followup.
* - no, not Marriage. That's a different song.
** - it's not a Eurovision song, despite what this quote would make you think.
Rocking the hell out to my copy.