Charm School Dropouts LP (reissue)
(Surfin’ Ki’ Records)
For almost three decades now, The Vapids have been one of the hardest working bands in Canada. Since the day they started in 1993, The Vapids have never stopped working; the band has toured regularly as well as doing one-off shows from their home base in Hamilton, Ontario, and kept a respectably consistent stream of releases on their merch table both at those shows and online all the way along. Those releases, for their part, have always offered fans an earful of “the new what next” from the band but, year-by-year, some of the band’s releases have proven to be better than others and Charm School Dropouts – The Vapids’ fourth full-length album – represents a genuine peak in the band’s development. On this album, all of the tumblers truly aligned, and the part of the record-buying public which was paying attention really responded; conspicuously, Charm School Dropouts has been pressed, re-pressed and also reissued a couple of times since its first release in 2003, and it only continues to grow in stature as more listeners get introduced to the album.
…And, as “I’m A Square” opens the A-side of the album already warm and with guitars powering through, those who might not be familiar with The Vapids will have no difficulty with and no qualms about walking through the door that The Vapids have left wide open for them. While it could easily be contended that The Vapids create nothing new with this song (Jim Vapid’s raging guitar attack and tone are a perfect facsimile of what Johnny Ramone assembled and presented on the first couple of Ramones albums, and Scott Johnston’s drumming holds the song in place just as Tommy Ramone’s performances did on the firs three Ramones albums), there’s no denying that the band’s presence is fully formed and solid, here. Likewise the punch in the production is excellent and the quality of the return is impressive; for the first four minutes of Charm School Dropouts‘ running, The Vapids own the ears, hearts and minds of those who chance upon this album.
While the band does falter a little in the delivery of “Pocket Full of Nails” (which suffers from the same “Nyah nyah” tone that The Descendents fell prey to on “I Don’t Want To Grow Up”), they recover well with the fantastically appointed and viciously composed “Appetite For Adrenochrome” (which sees Jim Vapid’s guitar become thicker and denser, somehow) and actually step their game up to another level for the “coming of age” crunch of “In For The Kill.” There, vocal lines like “Try to survive in a mediocre world/ I try to be a man, I try to keep that upper hand/ I try to win when I gotta fight/I try to stay on track/ keep it all together and off my back/ stand up for what I believe in, they shut me up and shut me out” illustrate that the singer really isn’t playing anymore; while Joey Ramone would occasionally touch upon a confrontational note with The Ramones, there was never any doubt that it was all for keeping up appearances but, here, the game feels a lot more real and the stakes seem higher. That change causes listeners to engage with the song in a different way which holds through “The Bad Lieutenant” (which plays a lot like “Teenage Lobotomy”) and really leaves listeners energized and excited to keep the energy which rang through the late playing of the A-side still ringing onto the B- as well.
…And while that A-side energy downshifts into the near-sludgy tone expressed by “Iron Will” (which opens Charm School Dropouts‘ B-side), that energy shores up and explodes perfectly as The Vapids pay loving tribute to Tom Erdelyi in the song which features his pseudonym character, “Tommy Ramone”. There, The Vapids tell Tommy’s story (getting a job at The Record Plant and meeting up with “The Cretin Boys”), and then quickly changing the proverbial station to get on to the next great party anthem (which happens to feature a slightly more confrontational tone) called “When The Lights Are Out.” There, the tone in Vapid’s voice becomes a little more strained as he angrily spits lines like, “Tommy tweaked hard for the superstars/ ’til he heard about these guys rockin’ it out downtown/ I think they were all about 22/ Tommy went rebel in ’74 / Started hangin’ out with the Cretin Boys/ Teenage girls and razor blades/ Trouble all around/ But he was Tommy Ramone” and that form actually holds consistently for a couple of minutes as both “Product of Your Family” and “These Kids Are Sick” see Vapid succumb to his own frustration a bit. Happily though, the side recovers beautifully for for its final salvo, and “Secret Destroyer” sees the side close on an excellent note. In that particular case, The Vapids don’t go out of their way to change what they’ve been doing to that point dramatically, they just collect themselves and then unload one last glorious blast (which includes lines like, “Somebody get that poor boy a drink before he starts freaking out”) before the needle lifts.
And when the needle does lift, even the most hardened and jaded of those listening will find themselves heaving a sigh of satisfaction because, front-to-back, they know they just experienced something great. They’ll know, for example, that there is not one expendable cut to be found anywhere on Charm School Dropouts; the album is all-killer, no filler – and plays as such. It’s for that reason reissuing the album made sense, but the timeless quality about it demands that it remain in-print in perpetuity. This album is the sort which will simply never go out of fashion, and should always be nearby for new audiences to find. [Bill Adams]
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The vinyl reissue of Charm School Dropouts is out now on Surfin’ Ki’ Records. Buy it here.