Me First And The Gimme Gimmes - Love Their Country
Produced by: Alex Newport
Label: Fat Wreck Chords
Released: October 17th, 2006
I'll be the first one to raise my hand when somebody asks me if I don't like country music. I find it dull, dreary and irritatingly repetitive. The same story is told over and over to a sitar and soft acoustic guitar. The same dude is singing it, it always turns out the same as the song before it...and when it's cheerful, it's just silly and over-the-top patriotic, like President Bush had someone write the song to boost people's spirits.
However, I can now honestly say that I enjoy country music to a certain degree. It's only by default though, since I like the punk rock versions of classic country hits. I don't think that counts, so I suppose you could still say I am not a big fan of country music.
Self-proclaimed as "the world's best cover band," San Francisco's cavalcade of punk rock heroes go all cowboy on us with their fifth full-length, Love Their Country. In case you're not familiar with their previous work, the band does pop-punk cover songs of classic hits. They've covered r&b hits, showtunes, radio oldies, 70's pop and 60's bubblegum, and have even done a live album at a bar mitzvahs (which was more of a shot at every live album to come out in the history of live albums).
Their latest effort is a bit different from past albums: it's comprised of a slew of songs many of their fans may never have heard. This choice is both risky and intriguing. Risky, because some fans may not completely get the joke of them covering songs which they have never listened to. Intriguing, because it may get some fans into the music and convince them they don't need to necessarily know the song to love the band.
The Gimmes are made up of Swingin' Utters bass player Spike Slawson on lead vocals, (who has come a long way, in terms of vocal talent, since 1997's Have A Ball ), NOFX bassist/frontman Fat Mike, Lagwagon (and Bad Astronaut) frontman/guitarist Joey Cape on guitar, Foo Fighters (and former No Use For A Name) guitarist Chris Shifflet and Dave Raun (also from Lagwagon) on drums. Truly, it's a hall of fame for fans of 90's Bay Area punk rock, seeing that Lagwagon and NOFX led the way out of the Bay in the late 80's when punk rock was in its prime - still not mainstream, but enough people loved it for it to be considered popular. In 1995, as a side project, some of those dudes from local Bay Area bands got together and threw out a couple EPs dedicated to covering songs by one particular artist (i.e. Elton, Barry and Denver just for starters). In 1997, they decided to record a full-length disc full of radio favorites from the 1970's. The band became a big success due to their mockery of cover bands and the pure cheese of old time pop music in general. More or less, the Gimmes were meant to be a band that was for pure entertainment value rather than artistic integrity.
The band enjoys making already fun songs even more enjoyable, adding their own brand of humor to either the lyrics (by altering them here and there) or perhaps to an introduction or at the end of the song (Slawson used to scream out a loud "yeah!" at the end of each tune). They also "borrow" riffs from famous punk songs and insert them into classics. It's a formula that has given the Gimmes their own distinct style and won over a legion of fans for over 10 years.
Starting slow, covering Garth Brooks' "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)," the Gimmes come out old-fashioned, with a song about the troubles of being on the road. As the song gets past its first verse, Spike croons out the chorus before changing the title line to "I'm much too young / To feel... / So fucking old!" The tune quickly transforms itself into "(Ghost) Riders In The Sky," an old Johnny Cash number. The rollicking kicker is less than two-minutes long and really feels like a good drill to the eardrums, even with good use of the John McClane staple, "yipee-kay-yay, yipee-kay-oh-oo-oh" (minus the "motherfucker" part, of course).
Speeding up The Eagles' classic "Desperado," which might be the only song everyone knows here, the band really picks things up and keeps the record chugging right along. Next up is a rendition of Willie Nelson's famous "On The Road Again," using an old Misfits song ("Astro Zombies") to start it up and give it new life. It's not a song that is far off (in terms of lyrics) that could have been written in the early days of Lagwagon, so it fits nicely here. "Annie's Song," one of John Denver's biggest songs, is less than two-minutes long and is one of the record's funnier moments since the tender ballad is torn through in a very loose way which takes its emotional value away. Dolly Parton's most well-known hit, "Jolene," is also given a large boost of energy, making it one of the catchier songs on the disc.
Bagpipes lead off the next song, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" (originally by Hank Williams), which make it the album's most daring song (for this band, at least) and also make it the standout track. Johnny Lee's crossover smash "Lookin' For Love" is generic as can be, but it is so fun and danceable that it makes for a brisk two-minutes. Perhaps the album's best song lies within a cover of the grim Dixie Chicks song "Goodbye Earl," which is simply sang with a low-key ease by Slawson, featuring good harmonies and making it an enjoyable, easily repeatable cut.
Featuring pieces of The Damned's "Love Song," Jerry Reed's "East Bound And Down" is the most countrified song the album has, with all kinds of cliches riddled within. It's obviously the biggest joke the album has going for it, making it prime material for the Gimmes. Kenny Rogers' "She Believe In Me" is just too sweet-natured to be done by the band, and really, they could have chosen a better song than this to have fun with. This version almost sounds as if an actual band wrote this with no ironic intentions. The final song, a cover of a Kris Kristofferson/Johnny Cash duet entitled "Sunday Morning Come Down" begins with parts of The Clash's "Police and Thieves," and winds up being the most ambitious sounding song the album offers. It's nearly four-minutes (a major feat for any punk band - especially this one) and is another typical country song, finishing things nicely.
With slicker production and a bit edgier than some of their past albums (mainly due to the genre they've focused on), the Gimmes have gone and made one of their best albums, all while covering a large portion of material many of their fans may not know well enough to find entertaining. While it does work, and I am merely underestimating the group's fan base, the disc's biggest downfall could come from that fact: the audience may not get the joke entirely.
Take it for what it is - which is good old-fashioned, highly entertaining punk rock - and you'll like it. Besides, even if you don't know the songs...it's the Gimmes. They could put a smile on your face so wide and make you so happy, those two crotchety old men from the Muppet Show would even give them a good score.