This review was originally published in May 2012 by the now-defunct AllSeeingEyeLondon. The originally-published piece was most likely tweaked by the editors – I can’t recall – but as that version is no longer available, this is the original copy I sent over, unaltered.
In the summer of 2011 Less Than Jake released a five-track EP; following it up with another in February of this year; both of which were recorded by Roger in his home studio (The Moathouse) and both of which were to commemorate 20 years of LTJ. What follows is an extremely belated look at the first, Greetings from Less Than Jake.
In the spirit of 2008’s GNV FLA – which was considered a return to “traditional” Less Than Jake – the first track, ‘Can’t Yell Any Louder’ kicks off with drums and brass in a manner reminiscent of ‘How’s My Driving, Doug Hastings?’, and just like that we’re presented with a promisingly fast, ska number. Apart from its length (1:49; the shortest of the lot), of particular note is the lyrics, which are decidedly more optimistic than one would expect from Vinnie after 20 years of caffeine, nicotine, and liquor: “I tell myself / Tonight is mine so I’ll hold my head up high / I’m never moving backwards / I don’t think I could yell any louder”. When GNV FLA dropped, its opener ‘City of Gainesville’ was, though ska, surprisingly slow, perhaps failing to grab the listener as much as the band had intended. Here on Greetings From, a nod to Losing Streak (1996) is, at the very least, a safe, smart move.
The second track, ‘Goodbye Mr. Personality’ is considerably slower than its predecessor, opening with an almost improv-esque riff, before a fill from Vinnie signals in the rest of the band, and we’re treated to the drummer’s quirky, image-laden lyrics: “So here’s my history / Stacks of scraps torn out from magazines / And its hazardous to be / Any part of my anatomy”. The use of alliteration and half-rhyme is catchy, and Chris delivers the lines as confidently as he has done with similar lines in the past. Roger’s bass is more prominent than it is on the second EP (Seasons Greetings with Less Than Jake) and on this track, can’t be ignored once it’s picked out, whilst the brass looms over the track, following closely the work of the drums. The song fades out with the same riff with which it opened – now accompanied by of percussion – and it’s entertaining to see how long you can pick out the instruments until they disappear indefinitely.
There are a number of factors packed into the third track – its title, ‘Harvey Wallbanger’; the Whoah’s delivered from the outset; the short bursts of brass, and; the lyrical content: “We are recession royalty / Taking Adderal to stay awake / And alcohol to fall asleep” – which, combined, offer the clearest example of “traditional” (on the record) and my favourite track. Alcohol and money problems are familiar themes and the consistent, particular reference to bars conjures up memories of ‘Malt Liquor Tastes Better When You’ve Got Problems’. Beginning with ska guitar and the Whoah’s that have become so frequent in the band’s catalogue, the song boasts a slightly forceful (ala Borders & Boundaries (2000)) yet sing-along chorus: “Blowing up all the bars / Everybody drinks for free / Hello Harvey Wallbanger / St. Jameson’s right next to me”.
Though ‘Harvey Wallbanger’ is my favourite track, the fourth; ‘Oldest Trick in the Book’ is undoubtedly the most interesting and well-written of the bunch. Sitting atop a breezy, bouncy, ska-fuelled rhythm, the lyrics are so ‘Vinnie’, it’s as if we are simply looking inside his head, plucking out musings: “I wonder where I’ll be when the ceiling falls / I wonder if I’ll be stoned / I wonder if they’ll hear me past these four walls / And what to write on my headstone”. The bridge, similarly, injects a well-known expression with the band’s expected cynicism and apathy, turning it on its head. In contrast, the chorus — led by brass — invites the listener to sing-along, with a sense of optimism and determination that the narrator in many Less Than Jake songs so often seems to lack: “I’ll change the world before I go / All I know / Yeah, that’s all I know”. The song is reminiscent of Anthem’s (2003) ‘The Science of Selling Yourself Short’, in that it is so laidback yet lyrically interesting that one is curious to see where it will venture next.
Opening with a nifty little bass line, ‘Life Lived Out Loud’, the fifth and final track, feels somewhat reminiscent of ‘Abandon Ship’ (GNV FLA). Both kick in at a similar tempo and with similar riffs; and both arguably touch upon similar imagery in the lyrics (not to mention that in both songs, vocals are led by Chris): “First let me get / This off my chest / There’s a few times / I wanna lose the map / Take it all back and forget”. Throughout the verses, the song sprints along Vinnie’s double kicks – the indication of a fast LTJ song – broken up with short bursts of brass. The song’s strength however, is in its chorus, wherein Roger delivers defiant, confident lyrics in a confident, defiant manner: “Drag the skeletons out / Parade them all around town / Welcome to my life lived out loud”. Near the end of the song, the guitar rings out and we’re treated to the bass on its own, and no sooner has everything crashed back in, than is it fading out with a line from the chorus and those familiar Whoa’s. These Whoa’s, in fact, render the track is a satisfying closer, the fade out serving as a chance to let this surprise release [‘surprise release’ in Italics] sink in.
As this review suggests (with perhaps more frequency than is deserved), Greetings From Less Than Jake neatly carries on the precedent set by GNV FLA – that is, a return to “traditional” Less Than Jake”. The parallels drawn between these five tracks and others throughout the band’s catalogue are entirely subjective; though nevertheless suggest little departure from a tried and tested formula. Given the reception of GNV FLA in comparison to previous (though later) releases, however, this is not necessarily to its detriment, and considering the surprise drop, the EP is surely one fans can be pleased with.