I continued to catch up with the MxPx back catalog and purchased both Panic and Secret Weapon. My initial feelings upon listening were that I liked a lot more songs on Secret Weapon. But maybe, as with Before Everything & After this would turn out to be just a first impression where when looking at each song one at time would leave me feeling differently.
The album definitely sets you up to think it may be a dark departure when comparing the cover to those that came before it. It comes out 2 years after the previous album, but there’s nothing unusual about that. Going back to Teenage Politics and not counting live albums, B-sides, or covers, they were averaging about 1 album every two years. The album is their only album from the label SideOneDummy. It’s interesting that (at least according to the wording on Wikipedia) they were dropped from A&M. They seem to be going from success to success with that label and their previous album was their highest charting album. Maybe it was MxPx initiated after being made to make a more “commercial” sound? But this is just speculation on my part after having heard the previous album as the band trying to sound more like Good Charlotte. Taking a look at running times, the album is a return to sub-three minute songs with two big outliers – “Heard that Sound” and “Waiting for the World To End” – both clocking in at 3:40. Let’s take this album track-by-track:
- The Darkest Places – This is a VERY classic MxPx sounding song. Very fast. It’s about facing the world vs just giving up. I don’t know what Herrerra’s political leanings are, but since album came out in 2005, it’s probably written in 2003 or 2004 – in the shadow of the 11 Sept attacks and the start of the War on Terrorism. The lyrics mention flipping the channels on the TV and getting depressed. Seems to be a call to the youth to not be depressed and to fight the situation. Could also be a reference to shining a light into dark places as a Christian metaphor. It’s still 10 years before Herrera releases the statement distancing himself from the religion.
- Young and Depressed – Just like some of the songs on Teenage Politics, I’m rapidly aging away from this song, which seems to be targeted from late teens to mid-20s fans. It seems to really target that feeling of ennui that can strike around that age. However, it’s pretty clear that MxPx is also viewing it a bit tongue-in-cheek with the chorus line: You’re young and depressed/but you’re pretty well dressed . I think it’s meant to acknowledge that it’s not all as bad as you think. It also always makes me think of the Fall Out Boy lyric: …And perfect boys with their perfect lives/Nobody wants to hear you sing about tragedy…
- Heard that Sound – This song seems to flow from the previous one with Herrera starting off feeling depressed before the “sound” he heard seems to lift his spirits. Works quite well thematically in order after the previous song. So far the songs seem to match the promise of the darker cover – previous covers were usually pictures of PxPx or the band members. (Note from after I wrote this section, but before I published it: When I was listening to MxPx’s new live album Southbound to San Antonio Herrera mentions as an intro to this song that it’s about a sold out show he couldn’t get into)
- Cold Streets – This one is the first one on this album that I’m less of a fan of. It’s a much harder, distorted sound than the usual MxPx. It does also continue an overall depressing streak in the songs. The title of “Panic” is starting to make more sense. It’s not a horrible song, or even a bad song. It’s just not what I tend to like out of most of my MxPx songs.
- The Story – The story continues this heavier rock sound, but this one sounds more like a Good Charlotte-style song. So I like it a bit more than the previous song. Wonder if it’s from a time period of song writing closer to the previous album. Lyrically, it’s kind of wondering where life goes from this point forward.
- Wrecking Hotel Rooms – The first “slow song” on this album. Funny, for the title and the way the song starts, it’s a love song. It’s asking if the other person is pining for the narrator. Although, strangely, the second verse has the narrator admitting they’re singing to a person they’ve never even met. It’s oddly poetic in a way that MxPx songs usually aren’t. I like this one a lot. Definitely in the top three on this album for me. I wonder if the institutions line is a reference to the need for pills in the previous album.
- Late Again – This song has a VERY weirdly country sound to it. It’s quite an outlier for MxPx and yet the band seems to be having a ton of fun with it. I wonder if it’s at all a reference to “My Life Story” on The Ever Passing Moment where he also mentions often being late.
- Kicking and Screaming – Another Good Charlotte-sounding song. I would almost call it a punk version of “I did it my way”.
- Grey Skies Turn Blue – Back to a more modern MxPx sound for this song. The lyrics point to the singer saying he’ll rejoin someone (seems to be a significant other) after he gets over his depression. Sonically, I like this song.
- Emotional Anarchist – Lyrically, this one left me a bit puzzled, like the first few Fall Out Boy albums. Each line makes sense on its own, but I’m not sure how it all comes together. Sonically, the song is fun. It still remains tinged with some sadder elements.
- Call In Sick – 100% classic MxPx sound for this song. The lyrics are pretty fun, the narrator is just exhorting their significant other to call in sick to work so they can go have a vacation together, waking up together. Well, literally, it’s calling for an abandonment of societal responsibilities and eloping forever. But I think the sentiment is still fun and we’re finally into a bit of a happier and fun song. Also, this is a recurring theme with MxPx songs. The previous album has the singer telling the person to quit their job and stay with him, etc.
- Get Me Out – A return to that hard punk sound (almost screamo) of Cold Streets. MxPx usually has at least one song like this per album or every other album. It’s not really my favorite. At least, it’s not what I come to MxPx for. Lyrically, just wants to be out of his current situation.
- Waiting for the World to End – Back to the usual MxPx sound. Seems to be sort of a companion to The Story (track 5).
- This Weekend – A slower song about hanging out with your significant other and friends over the weekend.
After going back over each of the tracks, it looks like I enjoyed about half the songs on the album. That’s not a horrible ratio and it’s a rare album where I like more than three quarters of it. I think it’s generally well put together and the song order is well-considered. There are a few odd placements. Get Me Out seems to sit out of place from the songs around it, for example. I think the biggest thing that makes me like this one a little less is the overall depressing feel over the album. I understand the sentiment – both from an age perspective and as someone who suffers bouts of melancholy. But as a whole album, it’s a bit much.
For this album MxPx returned to their original label, Tooth and Nail. There are some songs on the album that,in hindsight, seem to foreshadow MxPx moving on to their own record label, Rock City Recording Company, after this. They seem (speculation on my part) to have followed in the path of fellow Tooth and Nail former peer Icon for Hire in desiring the ability to make their own music without studio interference. After some cursory research, it appears to be a truly independent label, not an imprint of a larger label.
- Secret Weapon – A faster-paced MxPx song, but a real banger. Great song to put on in the morning to wake up and pump yourself up. It’s about embracing your own talents and strengths and pushing forward. A great reversal to the tone of the previous album.
- Shut It Down – Love the first line “This is a public service announcement….with GUITARS!” Another fast-paced MxPx song. More than ten years later, the exhortation to not let a cell phone or TV become reality seems quite quaint. I mean, I do think that connected folks are, on average, spending too much time in a virtual existence that is toxic, but this seems to be a battle that those complaining about it in the early 2000s have definitely lost. I think at this point it’s about teaching people how to find balance and fun/peace out of these interactions rather than doom-scrolling. Sonically the song is right on the border between a faster MxPx song I can enjoy and the hardcore stuff I complained about in Panic.
- Here’s to the Life – I’m not 100% sure of the meaning of the lyrics here. I even looked them up to make sure I was hearing them correctly. It’s another one of those more poetic ones. But it seems to me to be a slight acknowledgement that the life of a musician can be less than ideal. I do like it, musically.
- Top of the Charts – This one is DEFINITELY about the record labels messing with MxPx’s song-writing. Are they talking about A&M, SideOneDummy, or Tooth & Nail? Again, foreshadowing that they’d soon be leaving for their own label. They do reference a lyric from Before and Everything After so maybe that’s a clue. I like it both sonically and lyrically.
- Punk Rawk Celebrity – A song both about about how celebrity is fleeting and also about how celebrity is the antithesis of the punk rock ethos. A very interesting song, especially when the trumpets jump in. Reminds me of some of the Panic at the Disco songs of the era that also would sometimes bring in various non-traditional-rock instruments.
- Contention – About the same speed as “Shut It Down”. This one is right on the other side of the border for me. A little too hard punk compared to my favorite MxPx songs.
- Angels – Melodically MxPx has been here before although it’s a bit more pop than punk in an album that’s mostly a return to the skate punk sound. I do like the sound and lyrics a lot. Basically a song about guardian angels.
- Drowning – Sonically, it’s a typical MxPx song, if a little long 3:51. Lyrically, it’s about the feelings after a breakup
- Chop Shop – Another really fast one. This one’s a bit gruesome for me.
- You’re On Fire – I see this one as a companion to Secret Weapon. Basically someone who’s got things going well for them (after a bad time) and now they’re unstoppable.
- Bass So Low – A fun chorus that really rumbles your bass. Always have a good time listening to this song.
- Sad Sad Song – A funny Beach Boys via Skate Punk breakup song. Unlike some of MxPx’s other breakup or post-breakup songs where the singer is feeling blue, this one is more about how the other person’s a bit nuts and he’s glad to be broken up. Also a good listen.
- Never Better Than Now – A song about getting back up and trying again when things go awry. Another good song.
- Biting the Bullet (Is Bad for Business) – About a girl (maybe autistic?) who’s having a hard time.
- Not Nothing – The back half of this album seems to be about breakups. Another breakup song. Still, a banging song that isn’t a chore to listen to.
- Tightly Wound – A really fun song about hoping you win soon.
- The Hoo-Ha Jangle – Not 100% sure what the lyrics are about, but another fun song to listen to.
- Madcap Scheme – Another one of those songs that appears on nearly every album – although this could be friends or significant others – let’s just throw caution to the wind and have fun tonight type of song.
- Throw Your Body in the Air – Song about moshing/jumping around at a concert.
After going through both albums track-by-track it’s definitely the case that I like Secret Weapon a lot more, it’s not just a bad first impression of Panic. Next up is Punk Rawk Christmas and since it’s not just covers of the usual Christmas songs, I think I’ll give it a review.