Monday, July 11, 2005

Screeching Weasel--Remastered Reissues

Overall, much like 90% of all remastered reissues, this series isn't worth rebuying simply for the remastered album. Nor would I recommend avoiding them in favor of the original pressings. If you've worn out your original copies, they're cheap enough that you might as well replace them with the new versions. And, if you're new to Screeching Weasel, I wouldn't discourage you at all from picking up the new versions. For newcomers to Screeching Weasel, I'd recommend starting with either (or both) Anthem for a New Tomorrow and/or My Brain Hurts. You might even be best served by waiting for WeaselMania to come out this fall from Fat Wreck.


Original release: 9/10
Remaster release: 9.5/10

Boogadaboogadaboogada sounds virtually identical to the 1991 Lookout reissue. I'm not so sure they really did much on the sound-end for this release. Seems odd they didn't include all the 1st pressing LP pictures (naked Weasels bowling!) if they were adding photos too. The Lookout "cashing-in" green jacket is now back to the original pink (there is also a UK version with completely different art, which you can see in the CD tray of the new release). The liner notes by Jim Testa (Jersey Beat) are supurb and the commentary by Ben Weasel and Jughead make this one particularly worth picking up if you've worn out your old copy or never picked it up previously. However, even though I love this album and still think there are great songs on here ("My Right," "Hey Suburbia," and "Supermarket Fantasy" to name a few), I wouldn't recommend this as the first one to buy, as this version of Weasel had not yet developed into the pop-punk powerhouse they would be with the "classic" line-up. (On the other hand, SoCal punk rockers back at the time seemed to find this one the only one worth listening to at all, so if you swing that way, maybe it is the one to get.)

My Brain Hurts

Original release: 10/10
Remaster release: 10/10

Screeching Weasel had been broken up for a while before being coaxed into reforming by Lookout Records around 1990. Despite Ben's objections to using the name (he wanted to go in a more overtly Ramones-influenced direction and had an almost completely new line-up--guitarist Jughead and Ben would be the constants throughout Screeching Weasel's many line-up changes), Lookout wouldn't sign them unless they kept the Weasel moniker.

My Brain Hurts was the result--an all-time pop-punk masterpiece. Fans will argue whether Anthem was better (and I'm one of those in the Anthem camp), but it is a toss-up as far as I'm concerned. Both stayed in heavy rotation on my CD player for years. The reissue takes a bit of fun out of the packaging (no more "Hi Mom" on the spine), but great liner notes by Joe Queer and song commentary by Vapid, Ben, and Jughead make up for it. "New CD artwork" just means the actual CD has different art (pink with Weasel in leather jacket logo) and the "rare photos" seem to consist mostly of old show flyers (and photos used as background art under the lyrics). Remastered sound features more clarity (basslines in particular) and an overall fuller sound.


Original release: 8/10
Remaster release: 9/10

Following up a perfect masterpiece of an album is tough for any band, so perhaps the let down of Wiggle shouldn't have been totally unexpected. Wiggle is my least favorite "classic" Weasel album, yet still miles better than later disappointments like Emo and Teen Punks in Heat. There are some great songs on here like "Jeannie's Got a Problem With Her Uterus" "Sad Little Girl," "Slomotion," and "Teenage Slumber Party." But, something about this album just didn't quite work and I suspect it has a lot to do with this being the first album Mass Giorgini and Sonic Iguana produced.

However, this remaster is getting my "Most Improved" award, and is the only one I'm rating higher than the initial release. The artwork looks better, the liner notes from the UK's Lindsay Hutton (The Next Big Thing) are solid, and good song commentary by Ben, Jughead, and Vapid. Along with the more "mature" packaging of all the new CDs there seems to have come a newfound modesty, as well. Now, I'm just as happy to be spared gratuitous cockshots as the next red-blooded, heterosexual guy, but I was amused by the self-censorhip in the "new" (i.e., colorized) booklet photos. And was I not supposed to notice that one of the flyers in the art added to the booklet is a piece from The Onion that was done when Screeching Weasel reformed in 1996 and talks about Bark Like a Dog?

As for the bonus track, I've waited for years to finally hear Weasel reclaim "Fuck the World" like they did "Pervert at Large." While I still slightly prefer the original Vindictives rendition of "Pervert" (Joey's vocals really work for that song), Weasel's TVCD version was great. "Fuck the World," however, was a disappointment. Co-written by Ben and Joe Queer, this is one of the best punk rock love songs ever written and The Queers version is reason alone to buy Love Songs for the Retarded. (Yes, Joe--and the "Queers"--should have hung it up long ago, but once upon a time they were really good. This is another song that works better for someone else's voice rather than Ben's--more so than "Pervert at Large," for sure.) The recording included on the Wiggle reissue sounds kinda rushed, and it's probably no surprise why this track has stayed under wraps for so long (the song did appear with altnernate lyrics, as "Amy Caught Me Looking at Her Boobs," on the Thank You Very Little rarities/outtakes/demos compilation). If you were hoping this bonus track was enough to make rebuying the CD worthwhile, I'd have say, "eh, not so much." But, overall, this repackaging does the most to improve on the previous version. I can't put my finger on anything specific with the remastered sound, but I thought this one did sound a little better than the original. In fact, the more I'm listening to these again, the more I like Wiggle. I think the reason I didn't like it so much when it was released is the same reason Ben never seemed too stoked on it. His vocals have a much rougher edge to them than any of the other Weasel albums. I may be totally high, but on songs like "It's All in My Head," I even thought I was hearing a hint of some Jawbreaker flavor.

Anthem for a New Tomorrow

Original release: 10/10
Remaster release: 10/10

A favorite of the band, fans, and me personally. SW was really firing on all cylinders with this release, a kind of 'punk rock concept album'--12 years before American Idiot, by the way--albeit not as overtly tied together thematically. Any best-of SW CD I've ever made for myself or to introduce someone to SW includes almost every song off this album. Includes cameos by NoFX's Fat Mike ("Peter Brady") and Jawbreaker's Blake Schwarzenbach and Joey Vindictive ("Anthem for a New Tomorrow"). Solid liner notes and song commentary.

The remastered version seems to again add clarity to the low-end (particularly the basslines) and do the standard loudness-level raising. The original (1st anyway) CD pressing had a song track order error, which is now remedied (The tracklist didn't match up to the song #s after Track 5--"Talk to Me Summer." This could have been fixed on subsequent pressings of the CD, I'm not sure). Again some of the original packaging's "fun" is removed and a more straightforward presentation is used. Any way you slice it, though, this album is a must-have in any self-respecting punk rock collection.

How to Make Enemies and Irritate People

Original release: 8/10
Remaster release: 5/10

While I always enjoyed and listened to How to Make Enemies and Irritate People (the title refers to Dale Carnegie's best-seller How to Win Friends and Influence People), more so than say, Wiggle, it was still somewhat of a red-headed stepchild album. I'd listen to it when I'd worn out the Boogadax3, My Brain Hurts, and Anthem rotation I constantly had going. It's somehwat of an odds 'n' sods album Weasel put out just to record and release the last songs they had written after disintegrating during the short-lived Anthem for a New Tomorrow tour. As Vapid and Ben were on the outs, they enlisted Mike Dirnt (you might know him from some band called Green Day) to fill in on bass. It was intended to be their last release as they officially broke up the day it came out.

The discography included in the original CD booklet is gone, and all of the "fun" of the original packaging has been completely sucked out of this puppy (way more so than My Brain Hurts or Anthem). Gone are the fake song titles on the back of the album. I always liked those: "Planet of the Dupes," "Smurf Goddess," "I Hate Yer Nuts on Monday," Johnny is that Beer?," "If I was Hugh" (a nod to the late Queers drummer), "Da Genitals," and "I Wrote Ignatius J. Reilly."

The cover art looks even more blurry than the original (this cover art was intended for the original My Brain Hurts release, but Lookout was too cheap at the time to spring for a full-color cover), and the original 50s sci-fi movie-style font has been inexplicably replaced with simple block text.

Enemies song notes:

"Smurf Goddess" was another song co-written with Joe Queer. The Queers version appears on the Surf Goddess 7"/CDEP.

"I Wrote Holden Caulfield" is a "response" song, in title, at least, to Green Day's classic "Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?" (off Kerplunk!). At least, I always assumed it was. Holden Caulfield, of course, being the protaganist of J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, while Ignatius J. Reilly is the hero of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces.

"Johnny Are You Queer?" is Josie Cotton cover (she also sang it in Valley Girl, I think). Gretchen Smear (The Smears) sings backup vocals on the Weasel track.

Gretchen Smear, by the way, was also involved in one of the early incarnations of the Riverdales. From what I remember, the original idea Ben had for the Riverdales was to have a male and female singer doing a more Ramones/50s r'n'r-style band (even more Ramones-ish than SW). There was a nasty completely unsubstantiated rumor going around at the time (and I can't remember where it even started or where I heard it) that the reason she got kicked out was that she went on a particularly gruesome heroin bender and totally freaked Ben out.

There are no real new liner notes (just a short paragraph from Ben) or song commentary. (I just told you more than you'd find out from reading the new liner notes). And if you consider the photo contact sheet that comprises the "new, unreleased photos" worth having than by all means pick this up. But, there is no good reason to rebuy this, and if you can find the original Lookout pressing used, a copy of that would suffice just as easily as the new release. The more I'm listening to these again, the less I like this album and the more I really like Wiggle, too.

From the look of things, the motivation for putting solid effort into these re-releases had severely run out of gas by the time they got to Enemies. And there is still Kill The Musicians plus the two Riverdales reissues to go!


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