When’s the last time you listened to some punk rock, reader? That’s P-U-N-K R-O-C-K; the snotty stuff made in the face of mediocrity. The stuff that a band wrote because they had nothing left to lose because they’d been kicked around and told they were no good but still refused to remain down after having been knocked flat on their collective back. The stuff a band makes because it’s a reason to live – it’s not a way to get famous or wealthy, it’s just a way to articulate frustration at the world. You know, punk rock, right?
It’s around now that you’re realizing it’s been a while since you heard some music like that. You’ll realize that you’ve heard lots of stuff which has walked stiffly behind the punk banner, but they don’t really know what’s what. Few of those on the march have ever walked on the wrong side of the street – let alone done it so often that they know every crack in the cement from memory. The Bar Stool Preachers know though and, unlike so many of those other bands, they’ve refused to let it break them. On their debut 7” single, the band makes a lean sound which refuses to stay down, won’t be counted out and will prove it to you if you don’t believe it. This is real, and you’ll know it when you hear it, reader.
Now, this might be the best new punk rock made in a while, but that doesn’t mean Bar Stool Preachers don’t need a second to warm up. The first few bars of the A-side song, “One Fool Down,” flounder a little as some secondhand Social Distortion changes open the song and, initially, it sounds like it might just be more of the same. James Tetley and Tom Gibbs’ guitars sound dry, exasperated and road worn, and the bass and drums supplied by Karl Jeffrey and Rory Bonis sound a little bigger than they need to, at the beginning. It’s not hard on the ear, but not particularly interesting either.
Even so, that initial, unremarkable introduction will be completely forgotten as soon as singer Tom McFaull steps to the mic about a half minute into the song. In that moment, the tempo picks up immediately; the band leaps to playing double-time and even the hardest hearts who just assumed that all punk could be anymore was hardcore will swoon as McFaull’s words (“I will fall right down unless you take my hand/ And I can’t get my head around it or try to understand/ And I’m doing all I can to make you still want me around”) spontaneously return punk to a perfectly simple and gloriously innocent place – even if it’s sneering and spitting a bit.
It’s a song about a girl written around a three-chord progression and played by men who clearly still have dirt under their fingernails from their day job at one of the last industrial outfits in Hollingbury Industrial Estate, or have to cut loose to break the tedium of life in front of a cash register or computer at Sussex House. It’s hard, it’s fast, it’s nervous – it’s an escape and it’s brilliant.
It won’t take long for listeners to want to inhabit the changes in the chord progression here; Tetley and Gibbs’ guitars or any crack they can find in McFaull’s Brighton accent will do, they’ll just want to get in and be a part of it. “One Fool Down” is, very simply, perfectly captivating and the best-spent four minutes and eighteen seconds on a punk record in I-don’t-even-want-to-think-about-how-long.
After the brilliant presentation so clearly presented on the A-side of this single, it would be easy enough to assume that the B-side could only amount to a letdown at its best, but that’s not the case. While “Own Worst Enemy” does not surpass its A-side counterpart, it doesn’t fall terribly short either; the song supports the single very well and calls a few old working attitudes which many may have thought were long lost in punk back to the fore.
Rather than simply replaying the strengths set by the single’s A-side, The Bar Stool Preachers leap laterally and focus their attention on a ska angle for “Own Worst Enemy” without losing any of the ground they made with “One Fool Down.” Here, McFaull actually manages to increase his vocal presence as he bobs and weaves between the organ supplied by Alex Ray and the horns put forth by Chez Grimble and Chris Childs. Those instruments cut through the mix really, really brightly and help to put McFaull’s vocal into relief because they’re almost never heard at the same time – they punctuate each other.
In essence, the interplay between the singer and the extra instruments in “Own Worst Enemy” create some solid movement in the song and illustrate how smoothly The Bar Stool Preachers can transition from one sound (punk on the A-side) to another (ska on the B-side) and how well they fit together under this band’s watch.
After running front-to-back with this seven-inch, listeners will realize how completely The Bar Stool Preachers have baited them into coming back to see what the band has in store on future releases. These two songs are awesome, but they’re not enough; the excellent coloring on the vinyl (my review copy was the marbled red that readers see above, along with three other variants) is bright and lush, but it pales against the need for more music that everyone who hears this single will feel. Here’s hoping that the band has taken that possibility into account and has music more ready to go; they’re going to need it.
The Bar Stool Preachers – One Fool Down 7” – “Own Worst Enemy” – [mp3]
The Bar Stool Preachers’ first seven-inch is out now on Randale/Pirates Press Records. Buy it here, directly from the band.