There are a ton of bad pop-punk albums out there. Most of them sprung up in the late-90′s in the wake of the success of bands like Green Day, NOFX, Pennywise but really mostly Green Day. Suddenly you couldn’t turn on the television without having to listen to crap bands like Good Charlotte, Sum 41 or Lit. The worst culprit of the bunch was Blink-182 whose song “All The Small Things” proved contrary to the theory that if you play the same damn song to someone over and over, it’ll eventually grow on them.
Pop-punk. Mall-punk. Kiddie-punk. Whatever. By 2004 I was bored of the genre. My favourite punk outfits The Offspring and Goldfinger (who I realize never had much punk credibility to begin with, but spare me, I’ll take Smash over London Calling any day of the week) had disappointed me with uninspired dreck like Conspiracy of One and Stomping Ground. I was moving on to mood-destructive space rock and shoegaze music. For all the doom and gloom, J. Spaceman was still less depressing than Open Your Eyes.
Up next is the part where I got blindsided by Zebrahead and their album MFZB – acquired for a dollar at Sonic Temple at Yonge & Finch sometime in 2005. I had received their previous record Playmate of the Year in a pile of unwanted CDs as reward for a couple weeks’ work as a volunteer at CIUT years prior. It was a joke record with some really catchy songs but nothing of any real substance. I listened to a LOT of music that year because I spent hours each day walking back and forth across classes trying to make it to lectures on time and Playmate seemed to be in constant rotation in my discman despite my initial disdain for it. A dollar for the follow-up seemed reasonable and I was blown away by the direction the band had taken.
The opening track “Rescue Me” displayed more fire and urgency in its first minute than Playmate had in its entire 50 minute-duration. Nu-metallish “Falling Apart” successfully nicked the opening riff from “Crazy Train” and two-minute rager “Type A” was the sonic equivalent of the Tasmanian Devil. But it’s not like the group had abandoned its pop side. Rather, they had refined it and were writing stronger, downright respectable pop-punk fare like “Over The Edge”, “Into You” and the emotionally charged “Blur.” The most powerful song on the album from both a sonic and emotional standpoint was lead-off single “Hello Tomorrow”, with its huge opening hook and chorus.
The group had amassed a bit of a following in Japan and released a collection of outtakes in the Japan-exclusive collection Waste of MFZB which included a hysterical cover The Spice Girls’ “Wannabe”. Unfortunately, that would be vocalist/guitarist Justin Mauriello’s last record with the band. Citing creative differences he left the group to focus on his decidedly less-punk project I Hate Kate.
I’m loathe to use the word magnum opus to describe a pop-punk record. So I won’t. But I will say that even if you hate the genre or the aesthetic or whatever, there is just so much to like about MFZB. It’s worth taking a chance on. Music doesn’t have to be important or technical or groundbreaking all the time. Sometimes it can just be fun. And that’s okay.