Over its long tenure as a band, Five Iron Frenzy has had some really silly songs. Songs like “Arnold, Willis, and Mr. Drummond”, “Oh, Canada”, “Blue Comb ‘78”, “The Untimely Death of Brad”, “Where is Micah?”, and many others. But they’ve also always been a really political band. On their first album, Upbeats and Beatdowns, they had the song “Anthem” which spoke about politicians wrapping themselves in themes of nationalism. “Milestone” also dealt with racism and prejudice. “Beautiful America” tackled both politics and another constant theme across FIF’s albums – rampant capitalism. Over the rest of the discography there was:
- Banner Year – mistreatment of Native Americans
- Most Likely to Succeed – doing anything to become rich
- Get your Riot Gear – about police abuse
- Giants – rampant capitalism
- The Day We Killed – mistreatment of Native Americans
- American Kryptonite – rampant capitalism
- Zen and the Art of Xenophobia – racism, nativism
- Someone Else’s Problem – looking the other way at how capitalism means exploitation
Until recently, I didn’t know this was a historical trend in Ska music. At the time I discovered Five Iron Frenzy, I didn’t listen to secular music. The Supertones and The Insyderz were more concerned with themes of Christianity. When I did start listening to all music, I didn’t see much political in any of the No Doubt songs that made it to the radio. It wasn’t until years later that I heard all of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ Let’s Face It album which has a song against racism and two songs against drug use.
All of that preamble is to say that Until This Shakes Apart is a deeply political album. I’m not sure Reese, Dennis, and Scott could have written anything else in the shadow of the Trump presidency. Overall, the first impression I got from listening to the album was that it was definitely a darker album with lyrics that would sometimes make me a bit sad that we were still dealing with these issues in our country. As I continued to listen, I’ve definitely come away feeling that some of these songs will end up being in my top 10 Five Iron Frenzy songs. I was a Kickstarter backer on this album and so I’ve been listening to it for nearly a week now. Here are my thoughts and impressions on the individual tracks:
- In Through the Out Door – A song about xenophobia. Contains a great reference to Gil Scott Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not be Televised”. More towards the rock with horns sound that Five Iron Frenzy (and many other 90s ska bands – like the Rx Bandits) has mostly moved towards.
- Lonesome for Her Heroes – A song about a lack of regard for the environment and rampant capitalism, including gentrification. After the previous song being such a strong rock with horns song – this one is a return to a classic ska sound. I don’t know enough about the history of ska to place its era, but it definitely has a different sound than the Third Wave Ska of the 90s. It seems to mix a bit with an older style.
- So We Sing – This was the song to advertise the Kickstarter. It’s a real banger that I’d love to hear live when we start being able to go to concerts again. Lyrically, it’s somewhat of a spiritual successor to “See the Flames Begin to Crawl”. Love the reference to Peter Pan/Captain Kirk at the end of the chorus. Back to rock with horns.
- Bullfight for an Empty Ring – another political one that tackles lots of issues, but mostly the hypocrisy of Christians who are aligned with the political right in America. Ska-punk with a bit more emphasis on the punk part.
- Renegades – this time about the politics of gun control as well as once again excoriating Christians who support the party of guns all over the place. Once again a journey to a more traditional ska sound, but with some interesting effects on the track.
- Tyrannis – A song against the continued existence of those who build monuments to the losers of the American Civil War. Very strong, fast-paced rock with horns.
- Auld Lanxiety – A spiritual successor to songs like “At Least I’m Not like all those Other Old Guys” and “Battle Dancing Unicorns with Glitter”. It’s about getting older and nostalgia. Unlike those songs, the theme is a little less in your face. I really like this song a lot with its music falling halfway between ska and rock with horns. It’s got great backup vocals that work so well.
- Homelessly Devoted to You – the first purely fun song on the album. It reminds me a bit of “Vendetta!” from Reese’s side band, Roper. Another good mix of ska and pop music sensibilities.
- One Heart Hypnosis – About being obsessed with social media and getting likes (hearts). Reminds me a bit of “Beautiful America” from Upbeats and Beatdowns. Once again contains a mix of ska and pop/rock music.
- While Supplies Last – This one has to have been written during the COVID lockdown as it mentions hoarding of Lysol and diapers. Another song about the hypocrisy of the Religious Right and the fact that they aren’t actually acting as Jesus would. Strongly ska – almost throwback to 1st or 2nd wave. (I don’t know enough to be able to nail it down – but there’s definitely a stronger reggae sound to it.) That said, it does go a bit more into hardcore territory near the end (A la “Fistful of Sand” in Out Newest Album Ever!)
- Wildcat – a song about blue collar workers. Definitely back to rock with horns.
- Like Something I Missed – I can’t tell just from the lyrics if this is meant to be a couple that’s gone beyond being able to come back together or are just at a very low point in their relationship, but I *love* the chorus with “I need a low dose of you believing in me/ I need a sheet cake made of victory”. It’s sung with such emotion and it’s definitely how I feel sometimes, whether that’s at work or with various relationships. Once again rock with horns. Musically it reminds me of what they were doing on The End is Near, particularly “It was Beautiful”.
- Huerfano – A spiritual sequel to “Suckerpunch” from Our Newest Album Ever!. It’s about being bullied and the chorus is a call to come together with others and be hopeful. Sonically – rock with horns.
Listening to it again as I wrote this, I have to say that my favorite song is “So We Sing” followed by “Homelessly Devoted To You” and “Auld Lanxiety”. I like a lot of the other songs, like “Like Something I Missed”, “Bullfight for an Empty Ring” and “Lonesome for her Heroes”. But this is probably not an album I’d listen to a lot in order because it’s just so depressing to remember where we were at in 2020. The older I get (and I think Roper’s around 10 years older) – the more frustrated I get at how long it takes to move society in the more progressive direction. We’re still fighting forces that would take rights away from women or folks who don’t look like them. We’re still so far from finding a post-scarcity society like Star Trek. Almost everything I hate about social media has to do with putting short term profits over the health of the world. Shoot, even the police situation is still a mess.
So, it’s a good album. No, it’s a great album. If it’s not their best, it’s in the top three. I’m glad Reese turned these thoughts into music. Like the political songs he (and the others in FIF) wrote before, they’re important. And they may use the power of music to move folks to action. But some days I need the music to be an escape. So I’ll listen to my favorites and save the whole album listen for when I’ve got the stamina for it. May the next album find us all in a better place.