Yes I know I should have reviewed this ages ago. I hadn’t forgot, I swear – it’s just that I honestly couldn’t decide what score to give this album, the band’s first for a major label. It’s Less Than Jake ok, Chris and Roger’s vocals are as distinctive ever for example, but there’s something missing. It’s taken me two months to work out exactly what leaves me feeling a little unfullfilled and then it hit me – there’s a lack of quality tracks.
Don’t get me wrong, this is the best sounding and looking LTJ record yet. You can tell they’ve poured their souls into it; the sound is fantastic, the production perfect and the booklet beautiful. Vinnie’s lyrics are better than ever too, touching on subjects the band hadn’t gone for before. But for me this lacks quality songs and nothing emphasises this more than the band having a Cheap Trick cover and a re-hashed version of an old song on a 14-track CD. Gone is the fun, happy-go-lucky ska that filled ‘Hello Rockview’ and it’s replaced with a more mature sound. Cliched I know, but it’s true. And while that new sound is good, compare it to older LTJ releases and it’s not up to scratch.
There are some great songs on this album. ‘That’s Why They Call It A Union’ and ‘Plastic Cup Politics’, the latter especially, hark bark to an era when I was young and care-free and LTJ blasted out rampant ska anthems which filled dancefloors across the country. Opener ‘Welcome To The New South’ is a great way to hook you in from the get-go, while the re-recorded version of ‘Look What Happened’ would be immense if there were more horns. The back-up vocals provided by Heather Tabor of Teen Idols are lush and really bring out an extra dimension. But even though these are top notch efforts, they don’t compare to the likes of ‘Al’s War’, ‘Jen Doesn’t Like Me Anymore’ or ‘Johnny Quest…’ ‘Short Fuse Burning’ is possibly the only song that, for me, would make it onto a compilation of the greatest LTJ songs.
On the flipside there are some tracks which don’t suit the band. Single ‘She’s Gonna Break Soon’ doesn’t sound like LTJ and is one of the album’s weaker songs, while ‘The Ghosts Of Me and You’ is safe – the use of horns is strictly limited and Roger’s vocals don’t seem as urgent as they do on previous offerings. ‘Motown Never Sounded So Good’ isn’t that bad I suppose, but I don’t like it, while the aforementioned ‘Surrender’ doesn’t fit the rest of the album. I know LTJ love Cheap Trick, but this doesn’t sound like LTJ at all, it’s a completely different band.
If you’re relatively new to Less Than Jake then ‘Anthem’ is a great record which is well worth buying. It’s, in my eyes, a better record than ‘Borders and Boundaries’ but not a patch on any of their other records. It’s a brave move in growing as a band and it almost works – the transformation from silly ska band to serious, dare I say, rock band isn’t far from being successful. Unfortunately the songs were lost in transit methinks…