Ben Weasel is an asshole. A notorious one, actually. Joe “Queer” King, front man of long-running New England pop-punk band The Queers asserts this. Underrated ’90s Chicago punk band No Empathy have a song called “Ben Weasel Don’t Like It” (in vinyl form, the single has a b-side cover from Bad Religion’s Into the Unknown, their thankfully brief and mercifully failed experiment delving into a classic rock/prog rock sound). No Empathy’s song is a direct, but tongue-in-cheek reference to Ben’s often outspoken and cynical nature. I’d like to avoid a tabloid-style hit piece by veering this away from Weasel’s personal life and reputation, though a simple Google search will lead you to many pieces of evidence supporting Joe’s claim.
For the uninitiated: Screeching Weasel’s career began in Chicago, IL, in 1987 with an eponymous 12″ on Underdog Records, the label that released the Achtung Chicago! compilation series, chronicling some of the best punk to come out of the region in the early ’90s. They bounced from label to label every few releases, occasionally disbanding along the way, until releasing their final studio album, 2000’s Teen Punks in Heat. The members then scattered to form and join dozens of other bands, far too many to list here and some of which aren’t even worth a mention. Ben kept busy during SW’s downtime working with the Riverdales, and upon his main endeavor’s final departure, worked on writing new music under his own name, releasing his “solo” debut (with a backing band) in 2002.
In the last few years, the band began playing live performances together, often with the regrouped Riverdales as an opener. Recently it was announced that there will, in fact, be a new Screeching Weasel album on the horizon. The lineup is ever-changing, but the band’s newest album is being produced by All-American Rejects member Mike Kennerty, who played on Weasel’s sophomore “solo” album, and my favorite album of 2007, These Ones Are Bitter. This will be the first Screeching Weasel album to not feature Jughead, whose artistic separation from Ben was not “amicable,” causing the two longtime friends to end their personal and professional relationship. And yet Screeching Weasel are still playing their old songs, most of which were co-authored by Jughead. It is as absurd as a reformed Guns ‘n’ Roses with no Slash playing classic singles from Appetite For Destruction, although the riffs are slightly different.
There is something else I need to speak out on before I get into the review, and it is this. Why are there so many punk record remasters, re-releases and collections this year? The genre is so flooded with these anymore it is as if the labels are taking a cue from George Lucas and his endless stream of Star Wars re-edits and re-releases. Not to say I don’t like the bands and/or labels, but some of these releases (the Smoking Popes’ Get Fired, for example) are so close to my heart that a remaster is seen as completely unnecessary in my eyes. On top of that, with the vinyl renaissance in full swing, every one of these re-releases is getting an accompanying release on LP, when some (aforementioned included) can be had in their original form for a completely reasonable price. I suppose I am cynical in my own right regarding this issue, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Screeching Weasel’s Television City Dream saw it’s initial release in 1998, and boasted what is my personal favorite lineup of Ben “Weasel” Foster, co-founder John “Jughead” Pierson on guitar, newcomer Zac Damon on guitar, renown producer and bassist Mass Giorgini and drummer Dan Lumley. This lineup effectively made the band half of Squirtgun (one of three good bands to ever come out of Lafayette, IN), half of Rattail Grenadier (a pre-Squirtgun crossover punk/thrash band, and the second of three good bands to ever come out of Lafayette, IN) and once again half of the Riverdales (drummer Lumley came in to the SW fold as bassist and Riverdales member Dan “Vapid” Schafer left, his final work with the group being 1996’s Bark Like a Dog). The original release was 15 tracks, which have been remixed and interspersed with the band’s four songs from the Four on the Floor compilation, and their single track contribution to the Return of the Read Menace compilation, all recorded in the same session for this album, released on November 9th. The re-issue also has a new album cover, replacing Aldo Giorgini’s rather psychedelic original artwork with tattoo artist Nate Fierro’s.
I may have said that TCD had my favorite lineup, but it certainly was not my favorite album the band ever released, though Boogadaboogadaboogada and My Brain Hurts have already been remastered and/or re-released by various labels in the last decade. What is there really to be said about an album that was originally released 12 years ago by one of the most simultaneously loved and hated snotty pop-punk bands of all time? It is another Weasel album, take it or leave it. From the original track listing, there are the good (the faster-than-usual “We Are the Generation X,” and the album-ending “Burn It Down”) and there are the bad (“Dirty Needles,” a song that is essentially a short punk PSA, and a topic better covered by the Bay Area’s Fifteen on their 1999 album Lucky). The overwhelming majority of the record is unremarkable, but I know all of the Four on the Floor songs by heart, so having those as a part of the re-issue is likely one of the gleaming positives of the entire project.
If you are aware of Screeching Weasel, then this is just another re-release to you. If you have never heard this band before, you should step back a decade and start from the beginning of their discography. Or just listen to The Queers instead.
by Greg Stitt