Over the weekend, I picked up Charge!!, the latest album by The Aquabats. Before I comment on the album, I guess I should describe the band for the uninitiated out there. How can one even begin to describe The Aquabats?
For starters, they wear costumes and perform as a band of superheroes bent on defending the world from evil-doers of all sorts. And of course, the songwriting tends to follow along those lines, talking about themselves or the many challenges they face, such as two-headed cats, snakes or the Floating Eye of Death. Even when they aren't singing about superheroics, they tend to be incredibly goofy, whether singing about the mundane (as in the nostalgic "Pizza Day") or the exquisite (such as the epic "Captain Hampton and the Midget Pirates!"). Sounds pretty silly, doesn't it?
Well, yeah, it is. But it's a lot of fun. They have a knack for composing really catchy melodies and hooks. The musicianship is actually quite good. The band has seen a metamorphosis over the years, starting off as a ska-ish sounding band and gradually melding into more of a rock sound, albeit with plenty of hooks and riff-age. I am no fan of ska, but the band's goofiness was enough to catch my attention, and my continued appreciation has been stoked by the steady transition into rock-dom. Plus, they manage to sneak plenty of Gen X pop culture into their songs, whether a musical homage to The Goonies or a well-placed riff from Rush's "Tom Sawyer." It's quite clever. (Although, admittedly, there's such a fine line between stupid and clever.) There's also a certain Napoleon Dynamite-esque feel at times, in that prevailing standards of "cool" (in their many different incarnations) are skewered.
So what about Charge!!? It is very different from their previous albums. Although they have returned to their previous practice of ending song titles with exclamation marks (e.g., "Meltdown!" and "Mechanical Ape!"), their sound has continued to evolve. The most noticeable change is the lack of horns, presumably brought about by the departure of the band's horn players. Filling the void are some trippy-but-not-overwhelming synthesizer parts, which were subtly present in previous offerings from the band. The guitar takes the center-stage, and it is in the doubly-able hands of Chainsaw Karate (see the hook-tastic riffs on "Plastic Lips!"). This album was released on Nitro Records, the label founded by Dexter Holland of The Offspring, and Holland's influence can be felt on some of the background vocal singing/screaming. The lyrics are ... well, pretty much what you'd expect from the Aquabats, with songs like "Nerd Alert!" and "Look at Me (I'm a Winner)!" -- the latter of which has an amazingly-catchy arena rock-inspired chorus. Need I say more?
Anyway, sometimes I like to expand my horizons with artistic, thoughtful music. Other times, I just like stupid stuff that is fun to listen to. I'll leave it to the reader to categorize The Aquabats.
(Oh, be sure to check out the video for "Fashion Zombies!" from the new album, with multiple streaming options. One description I saw was "'Beat It' meets 'Thriller' meets 'Night of the Living Dead'" -- yeah, that's about right.)