Thursday, October 06, 2005

Screeching Weasel Weasel Mania

During the days when I put out my own fanzine, Anti-Society, I reviewed a demo tape by a band from Texas. No, it wasn't Screeching Weasel. They're from Chicago sillly. The band was named Coolfork and the reason I reviewed them was because a former bandmate of mine played bass for them. I came up with the term "twizzler rock" to describe their music which at that point was heavily influenced by the yet to hit it huge Green Day. The term sounded a little tougher than bubblegum punk. My terminology never caught on, but the genre sometimes referred to as geekcore sure did. My friend quit Coolfork before they later morphed into Bowling For Soup where they would have trememdous chart success.

Screeching Weasel is from that same pop punk universe. It all began after Ben Weasel saw the Ramones in 1986. It was the July 1976 England Ramones concerts revisited. Along with his friend Jughead they began a band to emulate their heroes. This simple three chord approach was almost the complete opposite of the testosterone heavy hardcore currently big in Chicago where Naked Raygun ruled. The first Screeching Weasel album came out on Underdog Records in 1987 with songs about their suburban lives. "7-11" was a catchy tune, but the record made hardly a ripple across America. It would still be awhile before Screeching Weasel would get the sort of popularity in the underground that Descendents and Adrenalin O.D. enjoyed.

They would break up in 1989, but Lawrence Livermore who ran Lookout Records liked the band and told them he'd sign them if they would reform. Lookout Records would become the home to many of the best pop punk bands of the 90s with Green Day being the most notable. 1991 saw the reunited Screeching Weasel, bolstered by the arrival of Danny Vapid, release My Brain Hurts on Lookout. Ben Weasel began to write a column for Maximum Rock-n-Roll. Screeching Weasel had arrived with if not a vengeance, at least a hell of a lot of momemtum. The Gilman Street geekcore crowd had their own version of The Ramones to inspire them.

They would release a bunch of classic albums on various labels, break up, get back together again, and then break up once more. Between breakups there would be The Riverdales releasing more great pop punk. Fat Wreck Chords has compiled 34 of Screeching Weasel's best songs from those classic records with Weasel Mania. The name is in homage to Ramones Mania. Some of my own personal faves are "Cindy's On Methadone" from My Brain Hurts. "She's Giving Me The Creeps" off of Kill The Musicians. "Jeannies Got A Problem With Her Uterus", from Wiggle, has a title that's clunky but the song is catchy and very reminiscent of The Dickies. Roller rink style organ lends a good touch to "Peter Brady" while the cicumspective "Every Night" shows a more serious side of the band; both originally on Anthem For A New Tomorrow. Screeching Weasel reunited for Bark Like A Dog released on Fat Wreck Chords and bark it did with several standouts included on Mania. I like the crunch of "Phasers On Kill" and "Cool Kids" the best. "Dummy Up" from Television City Dream rocks while the stutter step of "Static" off of the Emo album is the definite high point of the last few tunes on Weasel Mania.

So look beyond the commercial juggernaut that pop punk became and find out where it came from with Weasel Mania. Twizzler rock didn't catch on as descriptive parlance. Screeching Weasel didn't become MTV stars. But I think both are probably the better for it.

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