Saturday, 30 April 2011

Bowling For Soup - Fishin' For Woos (Album Review 2011)

Eleven albums on and Bowling For Soup are still riding the pop-punk wave that has engulfed so many others and, like their musical contemporaries Green Day, are sticking to what they do best. The last few Bowling For Soup albums, after the career defining Drunk Enough To Dance and A Hangover You Don’t Deserve, have been a bit patchy but there have always been signs that musically the band still has the power to move and amuse in equal measure. But recently the subject matter has shifted from obvious observations about girls and booze and ‘being back in school’ to more thought-provoking tales of lost relationships and friendships. Granted singer Jaret Reddick seems unable to grow-up and continues to deliver songs that conjure up a world that is perpetually stuck in ‘college party week’ – it is what defines the band after all – but as the years go by, he is more reflective when writing about the past. It is this juxtaposition of the shallow and the deep that forms the basis of Fishin’ For Woos.

The highlights of Fishin’ For Woos come after a somewhat shaky start. Let’s Pretend We’re Not In Love is an okay opener with short punchy verses and a soaring chorus but Girls In America sounds dull and out-dated, even with an ironic slant. S-S-S-Saturday is a much better three-minute pop song and starts a trio of great songs. A supreme arrangement frames a catchy chorus. What About Us is the first of three heartfelt torch songs and a perfect example of what Bowling For Soup does very well. Putting the humour aside, they lay down a middle-of-the-road rock ballad as brilliant as ever.

In musical contrast, but just as good, is Here’s Your Freakin’ Song. Making no pretence as to his state of sobriety for the performance, Reddick is superb as he produces a story within a story – girlfriend asking you to write a song for her and it turning out to be a ‘hate’ song. What could easily be nasty and venomous is instead a new take on an old idea, which ends in a shambolic monologue. And the guitar work from Erik Chandler and Chris Burney, as always, is wonderful. The flip-side of this is when Bowling For Soup sound like they are going through the motions. This Ain’t My Day and Smiley Face (It’s All Good) are the songs the band could make in their sleep. Only a handful of funny lines (in the latter Reddick recalling all the places they have ‘got naked’ is inspired) and some neat melodies provide a lift.

Turbulence, another heart-on-sleeve love song, is the high point of the album and one of the best songs Bowling For Soup have written. The clean acoustic feel, blending piano and harmonies, works very well and the production never takes over. As before this is followed by another classic funny moment – the provocative I’ve Never Done Anything Like This, featuring the vocals of Kay Hanley – formerly of Letters To Cleo. After a one-night-stand hook-up that starts with a shower and ‘dirty’ cell-phone pictures, Reddick posts his date’s bail when she takes her clothes off at a bar only to discover that the car they drive away in is stolen. The song ends on that cliffhanger.

After the obvious Friends Chicks Guitars, Guard My Heart, the song the band has performed live many times but never recorded, starts a very sober finale. Another fantastic chorus and excellent guitar-work at its core, this is another sign that Bowling For Soup can mix it up and deliver ‘real’ songs. But it is closer Graduation Trip that is the real surprise. Lacking any melody whatsoever with Reddick sounding deliberately flat, and driving forward through the painful nostalgia of a holiday romance, this just about works.

By no means a brilliant Bowling For Soup album, Fishin’ For Woos continues and maintains the manic, vibrant and colourful world the band inhabit. The album progresses from a typical inane start to end with two very serious, and seriously delivered, songs. This shows that behind all the laughs and drunken parties, there is a mature side to the band, choosing to express this as credible (if slightly ironic) soft rock. You spend the first few songs waiting for brilliance and that is exactly what you get – those two or three tracks that lift an album, and a real sense of a furious work ethic combined with natural musical talent. And that ever-present unique sense of fun.

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