First, it’s important to point out that this new reissue of Make A Pest A Pet – the third and final album by Age Of Electric before the band went on its first hiatus – marks the first occasion whereupon the album has been released on vinyl. Before now, MAPAP was available on CD, cassette and as a digital download, but not on wax. The reasoning for that fact could get chalked up to simply being a cost-saving measure because vinyl just didn’t have the market presence at the time that it currently enjoys, but the band’s longtime fans won’t be able to deny that this presentation – from the re-thought cover art [the silly frame around the beetle has been removed which helps to really punch up the contrast in the image] to the delicately re-touched “for vinyl” production (done of course by Ryan Dahle) to the inclusion of four songs which were originally left off the album and which now make this release a very full double album – is the definitive one. There is simply no better way to hear this music and it’s obvious as soon as a stylus sinks into the medium.
From the second the needle catches the groove and “Remote Control” begins to play, listeners will realize that this reissue is the one they’ve been waiting for. Right away, the guitar tones put out by Ryan Dahle and Todd Kerns ring out stunningly and will ensnare listeners effortlessly; there’s a warmth and power about “Remote Control” which has not diminished in the slightest with time, and that “perfect storm” sensation will bring listeners back to the first moment they heard this music, easily. They’ll be able to feel the electricity (no pun intended) coming off the remastered sound here in waves and, as it does, they’ll get hooked by an energy which actually has nothing to do with nostalgia at all; here, with “Remote Control,” the hook is set in the fact that the song is just the definition of great, balls-out rock, and it’s instantly accessible.
After “Remote Control” gets listeners’ undivided attention, Age Of Electric never lets it go as the A-side of Make A Pest A Pet continues. “I Don’t Mind” turns up the volume just a little further and flaunts an attack which is the definition of alt-rock posture circa 1997 (check out the “whoo hoo hoo” rejoinder between stanzas during the verses and lines like “Bottled up and coming down,” “I’ll hide it all away” and “Binge and purge and yet you never miss a meal/ Feast or famine, crash and burn” which all sound like great moment from a song that Nirvana never wrote) before getting nervous and nervy with “Nothing Happens” (lines like “I don’t get it – I completely understand/ She’s a perfect person – I hit the bitch” ring out as wracked as they play through), and finally falling into some Canadian bar-rock rhythms akin to Wide Mouth Mason to close the side.
Overall, the opening angles that the first steps of Make A Pest A Pet cover remain some phenomenal works which have really held up over time, and the remixing and remastering job done makes for a fantastic set of improvements on the original production. Not that the songs weren’t good as they were when they first acme out, they just stand out as being an even better experience here.
While it’s unlikely that anyone had it in mind at the time Make A Pest A Pet was being recorded and sequenced, the B-side proves to keep the “explosive opener” tradition alive as “Scare Myself” just hammers listeners between the eyes with brick-thick sonics and precisely no frills included to dress the song up, but still wins because the writing is just so great. Here, comparing “Scare Myself” to “Remote Control,” listeners really get a sense of how different guitarists Todd Kerns and Ryan Dahle were as songwriters, but how well those differences complimented each other; while “Remote Control” makes the most of a left-of-center styling, “Scare Myself” is an absolutely warhorse rocker which makes the most of a four-on-the-floor, needs-first-and-nothing-else arrangement and just blows the doors off the B-side of the album.
The power behind this track remains unbelievable, even twenty years after the fact; the guitars just batter listeners while the lyric sheet really rips its subject a new one with the help of all kinds of frustrated annoyance (see lines like “I got my secret from you – dirty and hideous” for the story so far) but, rather than just playing out two-dimensionally, the song really makes the most of loud/soft dynamics too in order to really push it along and force engagement with listeners.”Blow Up” and “Don’t Wreck It” don’t quite achieve the same strong type of impact as the side continues, but Ryan Dahle’s truly adventurous vocal melodies snag a different type of attention as they play out and illustrate that the band is able to make great songs more than one way.
As strong as the “something different” nature of the B-side feels though, after “Cranky” petulantly closes that side and listeners anxiously change plates to keep the momentum moving, the bad case of soft compositions and softer artistic choices which are “Real Stumper,” “Mad At The World” and “My Mistake” threaten to totally derail the album now, just as they did in 1997. The funny thing about each of those aforementioned tracks is that all three fall on the weaker side of Age Of Electric’s output, but all three do so in different ways; “Real Stumper” suffers from just being a forgettable album track (the lyrics and rhythm are both pretty static), “Mad At The World” would have succeeded much more strongly as a potential Limblifter song because that band was always poppier to Age Of Electric’s rock and unfortunately no amount of remixing or remastering on this reissue proves to save “My Mistake” – its sound is just terminally uneven.
Even now, years later, those three tracks continue to leave a bad taste in this critic’s mouth (that might just be a matter of taste though) but, happily, “Exist To Resist” still closes the original running of the album as well as the C-side of this reissue strongly. There, the two-chord-wonder riff which drives the album continues to make those who hear it want to throw their fists in the air under the influence of reflex alone and Ryan Dahle’s vocal sounds particularly biting and pissed off; given that Make A Pest A Pet was Age Of Electric’s final release before breaking up in 1998 it’s entirely possible that the sound is actually an act of transference carried over from struggles within the band. Ryan Dahle hasn’t proven to be the type to shuck his poppier side for anything really, so the shift so evident here really speaks to problems which were clearly happening somewhere in the band. Those problems would end up becoming undeniable when, after a tour opening for Our Lady Peace, Age Of Electric announced that they were parting ways and would remain broken up for seventeen years – until a show in Calgary was announced in 2015.
Readers may find themselves taking pause at this juncture to tally up the number of sides which have been covered in this review. 1, 2, 3 – that’s right, but the fourth side isn’t blank. Rather, what listeners find on the fourth side of this reissue is a great gift: a set of four previously unreleased songs which were recorded during the sessions for Make A Pest A Pet, but were lost in a vault somewhere until now. The first, “Th13teen,” plays like an awesome slab of Ryan Dahle-penned rock which could easily have fit into the Limblifter songbook and how it didn’t is a bit of a mystery, but it’s great to hear that it’s finally getting released regardless.
Here, Dahle splits his time between crooning sweetly and howling melodically in much the same way he did on songs like “Screwed It Up” and it’s hard not to feel as though this song is the best hint at the problems which were happening within the band at the time as lines like, “If you’re going to kick me off your super team, give me plenty of notice” spew out too. Even if that history is of little interest to listeners though, the song still ranks as a fantastic gem that fans will love to find. Beyond that, interest for “Pass It On” and “Radio One” might be a little narrower (how these didn’t get reconstituted as Limblifter songs at some point or other is just heartbreaking), but the historical merit of the songs is beyond repute. It might sound silly, but listeners will find that they quickly begin to treasure the discoveries of these bonus tracks as they play through; for the right ears, they truly do enrich the experience of this reissue.
After having gone front-to-back with this reissue, no listener will be able to deny that their excitement for Make A Pest A Pet has been renewed. Between the remixing/remastering, the new vinyl presentation and the bonus tracks, this is absolutely, positively everything everything that anyone could possibly hope for in a reissue. Presumably, those different variables proved to be infectious for the members of the band as well; conspicuously, an EP of the first new music from Age Of Electric in twenty years was released on the same day as this 2LP set – so it stands to reason that the band got inspired while revisiting this music to make more. If anything can better articulate the quality of the Make A Pest A Pet reissue, I don’t know what it could possibly be.
(We Are Busy Bodies Records)