Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Ain't Nobody Left But Us" by Zatopeks - Serious Review

Originally Written on Monday, February 14, 2011

So I'm bored again, and now I'm reviewing what is quickly becoming one of my favorite albums of all time. One look into my MP3 player and you can tell I like pop-punk, and thusly I'm covering the debut release of Bristish band Zatopeks. And this time the lyrics are in English!

Track 1: The Summer I Fell In Love With Jimmy's Girl
This first song is a humorous little ditty about the lead singer and primary song writer Will De Niro fictitious fling with the fictitious girlfriend of the band's fictitious rival gang "The Vipers". As would be implied by such a subject matter, this isn't a song where they're trying to be serious. It's mostly just a bit of good-natured self-indulgence, and the song itself is a basic pop-punk tune. There's nothing particularly gripping about the song, and while it's pretty fun I feel there were better songs to open the album with.

Track 2: Turkish Bread Chronicle
I was introduced to Zatopeks by this song, and it's easily one of my favorite songs ever and quite possibly my favorite song of theirs. The basic tale is one of lost love. De Niro meets a greek girl while on a charter bus, they hit it off and spend the whole night talking, and goodbyes are said in the morning. While this could be call for a somber ballad, the band instead go with a fast-paced, light-hearted, and overall optimistic tone. The track is fast, full of energy, and basically capable of putting a smile on nearly anyone who's feeling moody.

Track 3: City Lights
This is the first slow song on the album, and it's about a buzzed stroll through Berlin in the night. Yeah, these guys have a tendency to make songs about this type of thing. The drums really shine through in this track, with them driving the entire melody, making what could have been a sub-par song about a post breakup mood-fest into a song that's strangely touching. The whole thing sounds like a song they'd play in a movie when the main character is having some moment of introspection, and it works.

Track 4: Mary Lou
This is one of the funniest songs I've ever listened to, but most won't get the whole joke. The verses are done in a gravelly parody of Tom Waits, and it's uncannily how well the person (I'm unsure if De Niro is the one doing it) sounds like the old music legend. The lyrics are also a parody of the often emulated Waits' songs, speaking of the most angriest, most dangerous woman you'll ever meet making the singer wish he'd never married her. It's a really fun song even if you aren't familiar with Waits, if for no other reason than the strangeness of the vocals compared to the rest of the album.

Track 5: Some Town In Northern France
This is another song about the singer's midnight strolls around some old European village, this time the titular town where De Niro and his mate go on a search for an allusive group of "punk rock girls" that promise a good time. It's a bit of a romantic song all-in-all, that talks about the fact that we miss opportunities in our lives that we can't get back. All in all it's thematically the same as Turkish Bread Chronicle albeit with a slower pace. The music is soft and of moderate tempo, never getting fast, but never so slow that it feels like it's strictly a ballad.

Track 6: Boy Done Good
Basically a calling out towards the paradox that's apparently pretty big in Europe in concerns to drinking. It's an indictment of drinking culture, and I honestly can't speak much to the accuracy of it since pretty much anyone who knows me can attest to my aversion towards alcohol. As a result I can' really talk about the message. Music wise it's a bit faster than Some Town In Northern France and a bit more upbeat despite its less-than-happy subject matter. There's a nice spoken-word section towards the end that holds a lot of power, and overall it's a nice mellow tune.

Track 7: The Night Spider Earned His Colours
A return to the tempo and subject of The Summer I Fell In Love With Jimmy's Girl, this track tells the made-up tale of how the guitarist the titular Spider (Yeah, they have weird made-up names. I dig it.) runs into the insidious Vipers. Spider proceeds to gain the admiration of the band and the pretty girls present by knifing the Vipers and generally being a greaser. Musically it's mixed with a lot of spoken-word dialogue of the audience as Spider proves he's not one to be messed with, and it makes for a very different sound from your usual pop-punk band.

Track 8: Another Night On The Divide
Usually the middle tracks on an album are slow ballads that all bu completionist listeners skip. Not so for this song. It's fast, short, one of the heavier tunes, and you can feel a lot of energy from the entire band. The guitarists get to play around with different bits of distortion and we hear a bit of screaming from De Niro that makes me want to hear a song from these guys of a more hardcore nature. It's a lot of fun and one of the best songs on the album for sure.

Track 9: Jenny Kissed Me
This is another bit of self-indulgence on De Niro's part. The lyrics are basically taken verbatim from a romantic poem (as in the romantic era). It's all about remembering the cherished moments from our lives even when live gets difficult. The music is downbeat and sounds more of a pop-rock/country hybrid than anything under the punk genre. The tune overall can tend to get a bit boring, and the best thing they did with this song was not stretching out. It's a sweet bit, but I get the feeling if it went on much further past its 1:51 run time I'd grow bored quick.

Track 10: Quality Footwear
The highlight of this song is the bass. The vocals are fine, the drums do a good job, and the guitars do their part, but the Bass player is the standout in the whole business. I haven't mentioned it yet, but the mix on this album is very well done. All the members can be heard clearly, with pretty much nobody overpowering the other, and the bass comes in loud an clear on every track which is a bit of a rarity these days. There's a bit of Piano spliced in towards the end, and it actually brings out what the song is at its core; a swing song.

Track 11: Turn To Gold Blues
Slow and somber is how this song starts out, and at though it picks up the pace very quickly, the whole thing feels sort of one-note...until the organ comes in. This element takes me by surprise every time I listen to it. In all honesty it comes right out of nowhere, and could be jarring if it weren't so perfect for the song. Zatopeks seem to have a knack for incorporating several different elements from other genres and styles without it ever feeling forced. I've heard many a song that went south because the band, while talented, made the mistake of trying to shove several different instruments or sound-bytes into their music and it comes off as lousy. But here, it feels absolutely natural.

Track 12: Sophie Scholl
This is the track that is constantly fighting it out with Turkish Bread Chronicle for my favorite spot on the album. It's catchy, quick, and speaks about the singer's post-mortem crush on a political activist from 1940's Germany who was executed for speaking out against Hitler. The chorus is hands down one of the catchiest damn things I've ever heard, and I'm sure more than a few have heard me humming "This song's for Sophie Scholl" more than once in the past week. There's a part of the lyrics taken from a White Rose Movement pamphlet, and it's probably the best part of the song.

Track 13: De Niro Come On
We return one last time (on this album anyway) to the subject of the Vipers and their ongoing if sporadic rivalry with the band. This time the leader, Jimmy, proposes to De Niro to bury the hatchet. De Niro, being the impulsive young man decides it's a trap and challenges Jimmy to a game of chicken involving hot rods and a steep cliff. Needless to say, this doesn't end well for Ol' Jimmy boy. The tune is nice and mellow, never getting too fast or slowing down. The majority of the song is basically a platform for De Niro to show the softer side of his voice again.

Track 14: At The Dive
Being the last song on the album, At The Dive is a nice song, and does a good job of ending the album. It's on the longer side as compared to the rest of tracks, but it makes very good use of it. The lyrics are mostly just talking about the band's experience of living in a rat-hole of an apartment during the start of their career. It's a sing-along style ballad (with a dash of harmonica thrown in for good measure) and is a nice way to close out what is overall a superbly crafted album.

Overall, this whole album is a ton of fun that isn't afraid to be intelligent in its subject matter, but keeps things light hearted enough that it avoids feeling pretentious. For anyone who's a fan of punk or its subgenres, or is just looking for a nice album to chill to, I can't recommend it enough.

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