Jersey’s Greatest Hits is a semi-regular feature where Headphone Nation Editor Brady Gerber shines a light back on to classic releases from New Jersey bands.
I didn’t grow up with New Brunswick’s The Bouncing Souls or their 1994 debut, The Good, the Bad, and the Argyle, but I grew up with pop punk and I know its template all too well; middle-class suburbia is safe but boring and teenage angst has to come out somehow.
If you don’t have to nerve to be Goth or if you don’t like rap music, you listen to a bunch of people screaming in your ear that yeah, being a kid sucks, but being a teenager isn’t much better. You want to rebel against parents, because what the hell do they know, but you don’t want to actually offend anyone, so you listen to pop punk to live vicariously through actual punks who will offend your parents for you from a safe distance. It’s the perfect music for the nice kids who sometimes get angry but are too cool for E*MO*TIONs but not whiny enough to be emo(tional).
The Good, the Bad, and the Argyle could have easily spoken for middle-school-me. Thanks to Shal Khichi’s driving drums and Bryan Keinlen’s bouncing bass, all 12 of these songs are fast and fun. Pete Steinkopf’s guitar is loud enough to annoy my parents, but not loud enough to scare me. Lead singer Greg Attonito can actually sing melodies, and he sang about things I understood as a kid, like boredom, insecurity, and girls. I still think about those things today, but when I was younger that was all I thought about. Middle school me also didn’t have an attention span, so this album is perfect because it’s only 32 minutes long. No songs here waste time trying to be poetic or deep; the music skips the brain and goes straight for the heart.
Don’t take any of this as backhanded praise – I love The Bouncing Souls and I love this album. It’s smarter than the average punk album (and good punk albums are smarter than the average album), it has great melodies, and, like all great music, it effortlessly takes you back to younger and carefree days when all you wanted to be was older. It’s a classic album that helped paved the way for future sentimental-heart-on-your-sleeve-but-no-bullshit New Jersey punk bands, and it’s proof that the type of music that lasts are ones that speak to the inner teenager in you (again, no backhanded praise here).
The album starts off fast and goes straight to the point with the minute-long “I Like Your Mom.” Attonito makes it very clear that he likes your mom (and it’s not fad) and he wants to marry her and be your dad. Now that we got love out of the way, we can get to boredom and insecurity. But we also got the other ha-ha songs that you need in punk like “Inspection Station,” a song about being a car waiting to be inspected.
The Bouncing Souls loved irony and the 80s before James Murphy made it cool to like either one with “Losing My Edge,” but we make fun of the things we love the most and it’s clear that Attonito is fond of Valley Girl, Breakfast Club, Better Off Dead, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Say Anything, which are all movies he quotes in “These Are the Quotes from Our Favorite 80’s Movies.”
There are two covers on this album: The Strangeloves’ “I Want Candy” (shortened to just “Candy”) and The Waitresses’ “I Know What Boys Like,” and both are silly and non-essential. “Deadbeats” also tries keeps the mood light, yet it’s blunt is key (“I like to trust people / but sometimes things get messed up / especially with the money / that’s the worst / I hate it”).
And that’s the key to why this album: bluntness. ’The Guest” is a rare defense in punk music for being ok with safety and normalcy (“I like what I see / it’s nothing special to me / and nothing’s coming down on me”). “Old School” is once of the few times when Attonito sounds like his age when he looks back at his old school and pulls the many good times from the past (“if we really listen to these old school ideas / we’ll find what’s good and make it last”). And we can all relate to “Neurotic” (“Last night was bad / my doubts were all I really had”). It’s also a song that reminds us of the difference between emo and pop punk; the former is whiney and the latter is, well, neurotic.
The best songs on the album balance the goofy and the serious together. “Joe Lies (When He Cries)” is the fan favorite and it’s easy to hear why; it sounds the most like Blink 182’s Enema Of The State 5 years before that album, along with Dookie, dominated my own middle-class suburban upbringing. “Some Kind of Wonderful” takes its name from the movie and Attonito sounds like a John Hughes character contemplating life, and he does it again in “Lay ‘em Down and Smack ‘em Yack ‘em.” Musically it’s a one-two punch of the fast punk and the melodic pop – this band knows when to speed up and when to pull back, and they understand that you don’t have to hear every single word of a song as long as you have something to shout for. Pop punk isn’t about details. It’s about feelings.
You can trace the history of modern hard-bodied yet sentimental Jersey punk acts to The Bouncing Souls, but suburbia is all across America and this album is for the kids of America. But the kids these days still need their own soundtrack, so there are musicians out there making music for a younger audience, and it’s those kinds of albums that act like gateways into a whole world of new music.
In 2015 I’m jealous of all the kids discovering Beach Slang’s excellent debut album and how that will open the doors to The Replacements and then more indie-punk and alternative and so on. The Good, the Bad, and Argyle is one of those albums; it may introduce you to “better” music, but you’ll owe everything to this band for being there for you when you were young, even if you’re just discovering it now.