Montréal, Quebec, natives The Sainte Catherines have been showing up as an occasional blip on my music radar every year or two since their sophomore release, 2002’s The Machine Gets Under Way, an odd choice for New Jersey’s Eyeball Records then and even now, though it was later re-released by another label. To be honest, I never gave much credit to the band, thinking of them as neither good nor bad, but rather just a goldfish among the ocean of melodic punk/hardcore bands with gruff, whiskey and cigarette-drenched vocals that have dominated Florida and the No Idea Records roster for a considerable portion of the label’s multi decade existence. The modern classics and habitual fan favorites that are continually flocked to remain cult favorites Leatherface (whose early discography is still widely ignored), Hot Water Music and Dillinger Four, three bands that tend to make record collectors sweat. There is truly an endless list of bands the world over that have picked up the style and honed it to mesh with their own music culture. From California to New Jersey, England to Japan, the attentive listener can find delicately woven intricacies that can segregate most of the bands by what style of punk their homeland best creates.
Since it is so hard to follow what is going on in the world of punk anymore, I was pleased to find out that not only were The Sainte Catherines still together, but they had been hidden away, hard at work on their first full length album in four years (excluding the 25 tracks of previously unreleased material on their 2007 CD/DVD combo The Soda Machine) and debut release for Anchorless Records. Anchorless is a label that has been securing their foothold within the scene for the last few years, quickly gaining notoriety for 2008’s All Aboard compilation, a punk and folk-punk centric tribute to the late Johnny Cash. The album included new takes on classic tracks by Hot Water Music’s Chuck Ragan (“Wreck of the Old 97”), Lucero’s Ben Nichols (“Delia’s Gone”), and even “There You Go,” a submission by the band on which this review is focused. The year 2010 is coming to a close, and I feel confident in calling it the year of the throwback, in the best possible way. This has certainly been the year for the aforementioned style of melodic punk/hardcore bands to drop an album giving more than a nod to their influences. A few of the more popular titles of the year being the most recent Against Me! and Gaslight Anthem releases, both of which lean in various respects toward Springsteen-esque rock ‘n’ roll, heavy on sing-along and chant-worthy ballads, even more than past material in the case of the latter.
Not to say I am an overall negative person, neither cynical nor jaded as far as I’m concerned, but I was not expecting Fire Works to make much of an impact upon first listen. Few albums this year have kicked off with as strong and surprising of an opening track as “We Used to be in Love,” immediately launching into a mid-tempo romp that quickly picks up pace as the first verse begins. The time change slows down in the bridge and chorus before jumping back into a gallop, a steady pace-making beat that carries most of the album from beginning to end. The bilingual French-Canadian sextet keep the album interesting by layering their sound with an occasional harmonica lead, or using an acoustic guitar (I could be wrong in that assumption, it actually sounds more like a classical guitar) on top of the already full band sound. An addition that quickly overstays it’s welcome on the album is an incessant clap machine, minor though the sound is, it loses it’s novelty when used on more than one track.
The album clocks in at just under 40 minutes, the average song a tried and true three minutes long. The influences run the gamut of some choice classic punk and rock ‘n’ roll, and do my ears deceive me, or do I even hear a little bit of Bon Jovi in their sing-alongs? Regardless, the patented teeth-grinding Jon Bon Jovi whine is thoroughly wiped out in favor of a throat bleeding grunt that sounds as close to Leatherface’s Frankie Stubbs as any other vocalist currently in the game. I think it is a shame that this album wasn’t released a few months earlier instead of having an October 26th release date, it would have made a great addition to my summer listening playlist. Instead, it will get heavy rotation during this certainly chilly Midwestern autumn coming upon us, and likely will be thought of as a great provider of sweater weather punk rock while I make my weekly drives out to the city and back. Fire Works may very well be a much-needed late in the game addition to many end of the year best-of lists. I know it has edged it’s way onto mine, and for this I am thankful.
I give Fire Works 5 “Shatners” out of 5.
Because he, too, is a native of Montréal (and a badass).
by Greg Stitt