Ben Weasel And His Iron String Quartet “These Ones Are Bitter” (Mendota)
I am not sure there has been a sweeter return than what Ben Weasel offers here with his first album in five years. If you do not know, Ben Weasel fronted the legendary pop-punk band, Screeching Weasel, from 1986-2000. Screeching Weasel were honestly a huge influence on me. Quite simply, the band pointed me in the right direction when I was just first discovering punk rock. Other than his lackluster solo debut, 2002’s Fidatevi, Weasel has stayed well out of the spotlight. These Ones Are Bitter marks his return and it is by far the best album he has been apart of in close to ten years.
Weasel sounds absolutely rejuvenated on These Ones Are Bitter. The sarcastic wit is back and the hooks sound just as razor sharp as they ever did in Screeching Weasel’s heyday. Yet, there is a definite maturity in Weasel’s songwriting that shines throughout these fourteen songs. Weasel’s Iron String Quartet should get much of the acclaim here though. Two of the All American Rejects, drummer Chris Gaylor and guitarist Mike Kennerty, along with Alkaline Trio bassist Don Andriano give Weasel’s songs a strong backdrop to flourish within. Kennerty should be singled out for his contributions though. His guitar parts add a different dynamic to Weasel’s songwriting. Kennerty also produces These Ones Are Bitter and takes what he has learned with the Rejects and applies them to create a solid recording. The bright production goes a long way in helping Weasel’s songs keep on popping one after the other. The outside influence can not be underscored here. Apparently, according to the outcome, it is exactly what Ben Weasel needed.
On to the songs. There is not one dud on These Ones Are Bitter. These songs are just as melodic and catchy as the most memorable Screeching Weasel material. Weasel’s nasally vocals remain the same but even detractors will have a hard time arguing with the song quality here. The album starts off with the fast-paced “Let Freedom Ring” which is patented Weasel material. Kennerty’s guitar playing leads the way here as well as on tracks like “Got My Number” and “Addition By Subtraction.” On “Sour All Over” Weasel stretches his voice and it works as the song reaches the infectious stature rather easily. The glorious organs finally make their appearance on “Blue Is The Ocean” and it sounds as if Ben Weasel never left us. “Give It Time” sounds like a Screeching Weasel song but the backing vocals carry it to another level. “First Day Of Spring” and “Summer’s Always Gone Too Soon” touches on a favorite Weasel subject…the longing for warmer weather. “In A Bad Place” is a four minute Weasel tune which is unique by itself. The song is one of the slowest Weasel has ever written. Dare I say the song is, well, quite beautiful. The song represents just how far Weasel has come. Much like everything else on These Ones Are Bitter, it works incredibly well.
This is one I will gladly say that I was wrong about. Contrary to popular belief, Ben Weasel is not washed up in the least bit. With These Ones Are Bitter, Weasel proves he may just get to ride off into the elusive pop-punk sunset. This just might be the pop-punk record of the year. Who would have thought that Ben Weasel would bring it to us in 2007? Definitely not me. But, for all of us old Screeching Weasel fans, it feels like a long overdue reunion.
RIYL: POP PUNK