Being from the same state as well a fan of tuneful catchy pop-punk one would think that I would be really into Dillinger Four. Yes, one would think that. The fact of the matter is that I've always been a casual fan of this rambunctious often inebriated foursome. I've actually only seen them once in the last fifteen years and only listen to their albums when the mood strikes me. D4 has always been one of those bands that I've had nothing ill to say, even at times found them quite ingenious and spot on, but they were never a band I lost my collective shit over.
So when I heard Dillinger Four was going to finally release their fourth album after a six year absence from Terrarium Studios I was pleased but not overjoyed. I didn't run out and snap C I V I L W A R on its release date. I actually was going to wait to snag a used copy somewhere done the line. Luck would have it that I got a promo copy in the mail.
Now with all my mediocre ramblings aside, I can tell you that C I V I L W A R is a good Dillinger Four album. Everything would expect from a D4 is all there; the catchy East Bay via Minnesota melodic punk, the gruff and gruffer vocals, the funny song titles, the great lyrics. It's all there. I would say the only thing that separates C I V I L W A R from any other album in the Dillinger Four's back catalog is that it sounds slicker. There's a slight film of glossy pop-rock that I haven't heard before in previous D4 recordings. It's not overbearing by any means, it just sticks out there. I think Dillinger Four really worked on writing these songs and honed the art of good songwriting in exchange for grittiness and spontaneity. I suppose this would happen to any band that took more than half a decade to write an album.
If you like Dillinger Four, you will surely like C I V I L W A R. I like it too but it still doesn't propel D4 in the upper echelon of my favorite bands of all-time. They are right there on the cusp of the top twenty or thirty, which of all the bands I've heard in my lifetime its no small feat. I find C I V I L W A R to be an enjoyable album but once again nothing that I'm going to gush over.
As my age teeters closer to thirty than twenty, I continually ask myself three important questions: Am I still punk? Was I ever? Does it matter?
Sure my love of punk music grows exponentially with every year I age, but is it just a label for me to wear on my shirt, or is it truly a way of life? I’d like to think the former, though as I get older I see myself as adult clinging to youthful ideas that don’t stand the test of time. After some quarter life crisis style introspection, the punk ethics of my adolescent years seem naïve while my early adulthood beliefs on the subject now look idealist at best, but honestly cliché. This leads me to either the stupidest or most profound question that possibly former punks like me ever ask themselves: Am I sellout?
I pay bills, work a job requiring business casual attire, and think about marriage, owning property, and procreation. I still get wild, but have mostly settled down. Sadly, the truth is that I like punk music, but am not punk.
Or so I thought until Dillinger Four returned to the recorded world with their first album in six years. Though I knew their name as a teen, heard they were good, I never took the time to listen to them closely. I preferred the personal lyrics of Lagwagon and the ridiculous, sometimes offensive humor of NOFX. Plus I claimed edge, so songs about drinking were off-putting. My notions of fun were juvenile. Now in my twenties I’m old enough to understand the importance of the almighty D4.
With C I V I L W A R, Dillinger Four reiterates truths about America that become more self-evident to me during the most ordinary scenes of my everyday life. “A Jingle for the Product” is the sad reminder that my friends during high school will not be the same friends when they’re thirty, and while some will trade their piss and vinegar for decaffeinated coffee, I’ll still love them. Not everyone will keep fighting the proverbial “man,” but they can still be my friends. “Gainesville,” an ode to my new favorite holiday known as The Fest, is the first song that’ll probably stick in your head, the ever so catchy chorus ringing out “And it feels like summer in October /And I hope this day is never over /And it feels like summer in October to me.” While they may sound softer and more sentimental than ever, this is D4, so it is a political record, as proved by the tracks proceeding “Gainesville.” Trading his hard stance atheism for a slightly more libertarian view, Eric Funk belts out “Don’t judge me and I won’t judge you” on “Ode to the North American Snake Oil Distributor.” “Minimum Wage is a Gateway Drug,” with its infectious rhythm and Paddy’s throaty by way of whiskey vocals, remind me why malt liquor sales are so high in blighted neighborhoods like my own. Anyone who’s ever worked a manual labor job for a single digit wage will know that a lot of times you can’t cure depression with 4%ABV.
The rest of the album continues at this pace, changing tempos and levels of aggressiveness, but it never lets up for the second. Cynics may hate that this is the most melodic, mid-tempo album the band has ever released, but those are probably the same who hated Situationist Comedy on the first spins. Despite the slight change in style, C I V I L W A R is still everything you’d expect from D4: forty minutes of whiskey slugging, fist pumping, beer belly growing pop-punk. Being a product of the Midwest, a place where liberalism sometimes drowns in the cornfields of conservatism, this is, effectively a more punk album than anything that could come from New York or Los Angeles. It solidifies Dillinger Four as last true American punk band. As culture becomes more vapid and the economy continues to crash, Dillinger Four proves that being American means to always be fighting a war that’s anything but civil.
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