I recently saw Weiner
, a documentary about Anthony Weiner, the New York politician who completely obliterated his career with a sexting scandal, including a dick pic that made international news. Even though Anthony Weiner seemed like a genuine politician with good ideas for the middle class, he never could make a comeback: the media could never past that dick pic, and Weiner’s name didn’t help.
And maybe Nashville punk sextet Diarrhea Planet (DP) can sympathize with Weiner. Whenever you read anything about DP (including this review), of course the first thing always brought up is the band name. The first lines are never about the fact that they have four incredible guitarists, or that they’re carrying The Replacements
’ and Third Eye Blind
’s torch for chorus-driven rock, or even that they have the funnest live shows that near religious experience. Maybe it’s not on the level of international dick pic, but arguably the name is a mistake that the band will probably never get past. But if you can get past it, you’ll realize that a band named after a giant sphere of shit is anything but a joke, and Turn To Gold
is their latest installment of keeping unpretentious, authentic rock alive.
The opener, “Hard Style,” is a triumphant instrumental that is probably the closest DP has gotten to bringing their live show into the studio. This makes “Announcement,” a relatively toned-down song, a bit startling, and it took me several listens before I really liked it. Throughout Turn To Gold
, we see Smith confronting two insecurities: He’s seemed frustrated that people can’t understand his rough vocals on old DP records
; and at one of their shows, after a series of I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams
songs, I remember Smith saying, “I know a lot of these songs are a bummer, but I promise I’m really not this big of a bummer!” This explains the extremely clear vocals we hear on “Announcement,” as well as the focal lyric, “You can waste an entire lifetime searching for a fool’s gold, or you can look inside yourself and find what’s in you all along.” Smith seems to struggle giving a dynamic delivery while being simultaneously comprehensible; I’ve fallen in love with Smith’s rough vocal delivery, so the clean Smith vocals are one of the weaker parts of Turn To Gold
Then comes the album’s singles, which follow one after the other: “Life Pass,” “Let It Out,” and “Bob Dylan’s Grandma.” The last is possibly the best song on the album and the first we’ve heard by guitarist Emmett Miller. Named after an obscure reference to Jimi Plays Monterey
, it’s an ode to learning to play the guitar. I’ve heard plenty of songs comparing shredding to driving F1s and flying F-16s, but rarely do you hear guitar songs mention metronomes. This really epitomizes what DP is all about: guitar-god dreamers in their basements worshipping guitar titans. Artist Benjamin Marra did a fantastic job with a depiction for this song
, with skeletons and aliens wielding axes and light sabers, but it’s a reminder that this outrageous world comes from those solitary, sacred nights playing along with old cassettes over and over. It makes me hope that Miller writes more DP songs, but it also makes me wonder if the de facto lead guitarist in a four-guitarist band can write about anything other than guitar.
The second half of the album is covered in hidden gems, proving that Turn To Gold
is back heavy. “Ruby Red” is a Brent Toler song that has that Third Eye Blind
sensibility to know when to quiet down and when to get loud. “Ain’t A Sin To Win” is an AC/DC
power chord jam about racing motorcycles with Jesus in heaven, assuring the listener that it ain’t a sin if you win. This back half, though, is far from a race: Some songs go 100 mph, and others slow to a gentle stroll. “Hot Topic” is 100 mph; Smith screams about the gentrification of Nashville, and at the end DP plugs into full-on metal riffs, something we’ve never seen from the band. The songs “Dune” and “Lie Down” are a relative stroll, touching on the more depressing dimension of DP that we’ve seen on previous songs like “Kids” and “Peg Daddy.” On “Dune” we especially see Toler gaining some songwriter wisdom that’s twofold: (1) He’s realizing that he can write about something other than girls, and (2) He’s learned how to let a song breathe and grow, rather than shred through a chord progression.
“Headband” earns its place as the final track; it’s a sprawling eight minutes that combines the best songwriting of Smith and Toler to depict how to get through the days of quarter-life crisis. The whole band comes together on this one: Several sing in a moving falsetto, “I don’t wanna talk about what I’ve been through, I don’t want to go through the ups and downs” as Smith gives simple instructions to twenty-somethings: “Just brush teeth, man, shave your face, and reassure yourself.” Then comes the best DP guitar breakdown yet - this is sure to be a highlight of their live shows - before Toler brings everything home in the slow-down air that he perfected in “Dune.” Also, kudos to drummer Ian Bush (new to DP): fist-pumping along with his drums is especially cathartic on this one.
DP’s last album I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams
ended with the lines “So what the hell am I doing with my life, and how should I know if it’s right?” That’s a big question for one person, let alone six, and Turn To Gold
explores that question without necessarily answering it. Turn To Gold
is possibly DP's best album yet, but it’s also their least cohesive. We see Smith jumping from the emotional to the whacky to the political; Toler is really maturing as a songwriter; and now Miller is in the mix as a songwriter as well. DP is building a versatility reminiscent of The Replacements, where one song can be heartfelt and touching, and the next childishly goofy. But instead of having a Paul Westerberg
run the show, each member is dropping ingredients into this brewing stew. The band is really coming into their own; DP just needs to continue simmering as they try to better bring their fun-loving, anthemic live show into the studio.