Reviews The Lawrence Arms Oh! Calcutta!

The Lawrence Arms

Oh! Calcutta!

Oh! Calcutta! - A Simpsons reference or a slightly more cultured allusion to the 1969 Broadway erotica musical of the same name? Oh! Calcutta! is the fifth full-length from The Lawrence Arms, who have also released a 7", B-sides album, several splits, and more compilation contributions than you could care to name. This latest release is an interesting one for the three-piece from Chicago. Kicking off with the bouncy "The Devil's Takin' Names," we're ushered into the record with menacing bass noise, quickly followed by a dual vocal attack, rushing into a typical Lawrence Arms chorus, which like much of their past material, will leave listeners scratching their head as to how they know the sing-along parts after one listen. We do get a break from tradition with the uncharacteristic vocals in the breakdown from guitarist Chris McCaughan that sounds almost country-esque in a sun baked and whisky-drenched throaty rasp.

One thing that's evident from first listen to Oh! Calcutta! is the slight rhythmic variation by the band compared to their past releases. Typically favoring palm-muted "punk" chord progressions that have seen the band earn some criticism for repetitiveness, the first few tracks of Oh! Calcutta! show some attempts to vary their verse structures by the band, to good effect.

"Recovering the Opposable Thumb" shows a reappearance of the aforementioned throaty vocals by McCaughan, contrasting with bassist Brendan Kelly's higher-pitched wail, which are noticeably different from his softer, more melodic sounds on 2003's The Greatest Story Ever Told.

Neil Hennessy's drumming on this record is tighter than on previous efforts, with a little more variation in fills despite the similar tempos used. The brilliantly named "Are You There Margaret? It's Me, God" showcases the twin vocal talents of the band, but despite a lead guitar focused structure, the song soon falls into predictable Lawrence Arms territory - not that is a bad thing necessarily, the band are good at what they do, but at times it does leave the listener wishing the band would break out of the same patterns.

"Jumping the Shark" could have been an Against Me! song with its moody alt-country leanings and drunken group chorus and slow beginnings, a good sound for the band. A few tracks later and "Requiem Revisited" hits the listener with a barrage of "ohh-ohh-oh"s in the chorus that would sway even the coolest hipster from his arms-crossed stance to sing along at a show. "Key to the City" is more of the same with the "gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme" vocal marathon that's an instant, if cheap, hook.

"Old Dogs Never Die" is quite a change for the band, sounding almost like a Strike Anywhere song at the start. It eases into a scream-tinged breakdown and then it's over and onto one of the band's longest songs, the final track "Like a Record Player." The song itself is standard Lawrence Arms fare, then after a short pause, we get a real country song, complete with steel guitar and more of the gin-soaked vocals. If you thought the band were going to end the record with this, you'd be mistaken, as in the dying seconds we're rushed back into a guitar-heavy climax, with a flailing guitar solo writhing around in the mix as it finishes rapidly.

Over in 33 minutes, a similar length to The Lawrence Arms' two other Fat Wreck releases, Oh! Calcutta! is a quick blast of some old, and new sounds from the band. While they're adored by the punk community for their humor and no-nonsense attitudes, their sound can get a little too samey over sustained plays, and some tracks on this record wouldn't have seemed too out of place on many of their past records. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is debatable - the question of how far a band should change their sound is always a bone of contention in the punk rock scene.

The increased use of the guitar as a lead instrument is nice to hear on this record, and the variations in vocals always add an extra touch to a band's output. The real question is how long will the band be able to use this formula without boring fans?

Oh, and in case you were curious, the title of the musical is drawn from "O quel cul t'as", French for "What an ass you have".

7.2 / 10Matt
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7.2 / 10

7.2 / 10

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