I'm not aiming for overdramatics to spice up the opening line of my review, I'm being dead serious. It was MxPx that pulled me out of my junior-high years of Pantera and Metallica. It was MxPx who were (along with Blink 182) one the first bands covered by the original AP.net. It was MxPx who, upon first listen so many years ago, drew me into the melodic world of fast drumming overlaid with lyrics mostly about (failed) relationships.
Now - almost 12 years later - I'm still listening.
This is a band that has been around for over 10 years and released over seven full-lengths, four EPs, three compilation CDs, and one live album; almost all of these with the same three members. They've written songs from each end, and just about every level in-between, of the pop-punk spectrum. Fast and raucous to extremely poppy - they've done it. This foray through an assortment of styles has left the band with a blend of fans. Most vocal are those who pledge allegiance to the sound of the band's roots and have been wishing for a repeat of the Life in General and Slowly Going The Way of the Buffalo era. For me, my favorite song has always been "Doing Time" and my favorite album Slowly Going the Way... - so while I may be in the minority for having enjoyed all of the band's releases, it's been a while since I've genuinely loved one.
Secret Weapon has undoubtedly changed that trend.
While semi-recreating a sound that draws influence from the early 90's, MxPx and producer Aaron Sprinkle have been able to put together a fresh mix that results in a feeling of re-birth. A feeling that says an old fan could fall in love with the band all over again and a new fan could discover the band for the very first time. Due to this emerging dichotomy, this review will contain thoughts and feelings from both perspectives. While drawing on references to the band's extensive back-catalog I will also be pointing out qualities that should be helpful to the MxPx virgins.
The regular version of the CD spans 16 tracks and covers roughly 50 minutes of playing time. The majority of the songs are fast-paced (think Teenage Politics/Life In General) and meant to be played loud. If "fast pace" was a vertical line - you would find a spattering of tracks on either side. Some reaching for a more melodic range (think "My Life Story" and "Study Humans") and others ignoring the mid-tempo and simply playing faster than your ears can keep up (think "Fist vs Tact" and "Talk of the Town"). Every member of the band is playing as well as I've ever heard them - great guitar riffs, steady and quick drumming, and some of the better bass playing I've heard this year. Mike's voice sounds good, usually within range, and only occasionally hitting a whiny tone. Aaron Sprinkle's production is fantastic. Smooth and clean - yet clear enough to allow the aggression to shine when needed. The album's lyrics walk through the usual MxPx themes (the pun life in general is too easy not to use) and teeter between simple and slightly corny.
The album opens with two tracks begging to be played at full volume ("Secret Weapon" and "Shut it Down") - both feature brisk drums, clever progressions, and Mike's vocals frantically trying to keep cadence. "Shut it Down" contains gang vocals, a foot pounding intro, and one of the best bridge's the band has ever written. The next three tracks ("Here's to the Life," "Top of the Charts" and "Angels") are arguably the poppiest songs on the album. "Top of the Charts" (a song discussing the current state of the music world - tongue planted firmly in cheek) is probably the weakest song on the entire release. Not quite as cheesy as Before Everything and After's "Everything Sucks" - but almost. It seems every MxPx album has one of those songs. "Angels" contains an opening and styling that reminds me of "Opposite of Intellect”; it'd be my recommendation for the radio single.
The next three tracks kick the album into the next gear. We have "Punk Rock Celebrity" (a track that changes pace mid-song), the one minute twenty second punk rock fueled "Contention," and "Drowning" (which recalls memories of The Ever Passing Moment's "Buildings Tumble").
No album review should leave out "Chop Shop" (a song that begs to be played live with the entire audience screaming the chorus) or the phenomenal bass-solo in (predictably) "Bass So Low." Mike Herrera may be one of the most underrated bass players in this genre - I think the energy and voice he gives to the instrument is extremely impressive.
With 16 tracks - the album feels a slight bit long. While the songs are strong all the way through (from the pure-pop of "Sad Sad Song" to the "Your Problem My Emergency"-esque "Never Better Than Now"), I can't help but feel a slight bit worn when the album ends. Maybe one or two tracks would have been better used as extra b-sides on an already expansive deluxe edition. However, we are left with an album of quality that smells of renewal and revival. This may not be my album of the year – but I consider it fully equipped to blow holes in my speakers all summer long.
To be honest, this may be exactly what our current music scene needs - a swift kick in the ass. I hope everyone that gives this band a listen (for the first or 100th time) is as excited as I was upon my first and (not soon to be) last walk through MxPx's Secret Weapon. A more fitting title I've never seen.
Recommended if You LikeMxPx's Life in General era, pop-punk with as much punk as pop, Decendent's Everything Sucks, or a catchy/melodic band that your girlfriend probably won't steal away from you.
01. Secret Weapon
02. Shut It Down
03. Here’s To The Life
04. Top Of The Charts
05. Punk Rock Celebrity
09. Chop Shop
10. You’re On Fire
11. Bass So Low
12. Sad Sad Song
13. Never Better Than Now
14. Biting The Bullet
15. Not Nothing
16. Tightly Wound