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Album review: Screeching Weasel's 'First World Manifesto'

March 14, 2011 |  8:16 pm

SW_240_Among the reunited crop of beloved ’80s and ’90s underground rock acts, Screeching Weasel is perhaps the least likely to receive a parade of critical reassessments. Bred in suburban Chicago, these snotty punk rock misfits weren’t always the easiest of bands to love. Tours were rare, sets were brief and cantankerous leader Ben Weasel (real name: Ben Foster) has had a habit of writing tunes that mock his fans.

Yet Screeching Weasel is to American suburbia as the Ramones were to New York City, and the band has always been well aware that a sense of humor is a powerful thing. A knack for a melodic hook, of course, helps as well, and “First World Manifesto,” the first Screeching Weasel album in 11 years, is a swift and stinging take on punk rock maturity.

No doubt some longtime Screeching Weasel fans will cringe at the detailed takedowns in “Friday Night Nation,” where high school rebels have comfortably grown into anonymity. Domestication hasn’t been kind to relationships, either, as “Frankengirl” alternates the act of doing dishes with monster-movie images. Elsewhere, the stop-and-go rush, subtle harmonies and sing-along “ba-ba-ba's” of “Beginningless Vacation” turn a standard workplace cubicle into a nightmare.

The current five-piece incarnation of Screeching Weasel includes longtime copilot Dan Vapid, but is the first without co-founder John Jughead. Although Jughead is missed, “First World Manifesto” presents arguably the most proficient Screeching Weasel to date. Throughout, guitar solos break from tracing the melody, and standouts abound — be it the brief ’50s rock romanticism of “Fortune Cookie” or the rhythmic guitar snap of “Little Big Man.”

One shouldn't be fooled by the bratty vocals and cut-to-the-point lyrics, as Screeching Weasel isn't afflicted with Peter Pan Syndrome. Here, it's “things like vinyl and bikes, indie coffee shops and microbrews, and LGBT-friendly soccer teams” that somehow manage to worm their way into a Screeching Weasel rant. And thus, more than 20 years in, Screeching Weasel is providing tuneful evidence that one can be childish without coming off as adolescent.

-- Todd Martens

Screeching Weasel
"First World Manifesto"
Fat Wreck Chords
Three and a half stars (Out of four)