When Blink-182 started, they started where most punk bands of the 90’s started: the garage. Their music was fast, loud, and obnoxious in a way that was endearing, as if to say: “We’re hear, we’re catchy – But please don’t take us TOO seriously.” But somewhere after Enema of the State, the band started to yearn for something more serious. Take Off Your Pants and Jacket is just about as serious as an album with a sex joke as the title can be; sure it featured summertime hits and breezy pop punk but there was something slightly heavier happening on that album. It’s not until we hit the bands self-titled album that things go really dark (“I Miss You”? A Robert Smith collaboration?). Poop and pee jokes seemed to vanish, the music got (arguably) more complex and layered. They tried their hardest to be a legitimate alternative rock presence. By that point the evolution of their sound, regardless of if you agreed with it, seemed natural. From garage punks making goofy pop punk to garage punks making self-serious takes on alternative rock wasn’t a confusing narrative, especially since a lot of bands coming from that world followed in similar footsteps.
The FIDLAR story, nearly twenty years later, starts where most musical stories start in the 21st century: the bedroom. The bedroom isn’t quite the garage that Blink-182 started in, but there’s a similarly hungry charm to it. Early demos and recordings transitioned into some bandcamp material, which led to a few EP’s, an album, a whole lotta touring and then finally, a sophomore release. Blink-182, often cited as a band who heavily influenced FIDLAR (and you can tell) were intentional and calculated in their move to heavier topics. FIDLAR’s newest album, Too, is a jarring and sloppy move to more emotionally resonant material.
It’s not really FIDLAR’s fault – they were setup for failure. They had another fun, poppy record inside them and Too flirts with this idea frequently. The bands self-titled debut was just that: Innocent, fun, and reckless in ways that 21-year olds relate to. Even if it was mixed like an early Black Lips album, it lacked a lot of that bands surface level depth in the best way possible. When the songs are high-paced party fodder, you don’t NEED something greater. FIDLAR was an album about kids doing drugs and getting fucked up – fortunately for us, deeper questions bubbled under the surface. Questions like “How sustainable is this lifestyle?”, “Why subject yourself to a life of drugged out partying?” and “How do you get away from it all?” were all the questions that made FIDLAR interesting, but make Too boring and obvious.
Too, right off the bat, is a crisper and cleaner sounding album. The production is punchier this go-around, and it feels like a shot for mainstream relevancy (the amount of online banner ads and video promos I’ve seen for it seem to confirm that intention). The fun, quick, punk hits on this album feel like polished versions of what could’ve come on the debut; “40oz On Repeat”, “Drone” and “West Coast” are all textbook singles, though each slightly misleading with the type of songs you’ll get from FIDLAR on this album. It says something that “West Coast”, easily the best song on this album and one of the best of the year, is actually a reworking of a much older bedroom demo.
But even with cleaner production and some good singles, Too goes dark and whiny very quickly. A glance over the tracklisting and you’ll understand immediately that this is a self-aware album (“Why Generation”, “Punks”, “Sober”, “Overdoes”, “Stupid Decisions”) and that the questioning of the punk rock lifestyle is blatantly addressed. Some of these songs are really good, too. “Stupid Decisions” has a catchy chorus and feels like vintage FIDLAR. The lyrics on this track, while somewhat more on the nose than their previously released material, are JUST vague enough to make the revelations made through subtext more interesting than the revelations through the direct storytelling, which was one of the greatest fighting strengths of the first album.
Yet “Stupid Decisions” also isn’t a song that could define the album. After a few songs you realize how annoying a lot of the album is. “Sober” is almost intentionally frustrating, giving you a quick break chorus and then some whiny talk-along conversation in between. “Hey Johnny” and “Leave Me Alone” feel similarly tedious to get through on subsequent listens, making Too instantly seem like an album you have to skip through a LOT to get to anything worthwhile, especially given how odd the pacing is. I think there was an intention to frontload the happy go-lucky drug and drinking songs in the front of the album to contrast the darkness of the back half, almost as if it was a concept project. But from about “Sober” onwards things get heavy – either musically or lyrically and often times in a way that just screams “take us seriously our music isn’t fun anymore”. We don’t have anything even remotely close to a “West Coast” on the rest of the LP, and listening for one makes Too even more of a chore. And songs like “Bad Habit” or especially “Overdose” would probably be poignant if FIDLAR had released this album in ten years; I don’t doubt that “Overdose”’s folksy reality check will be lost on an audience that grew to love them BECAUSE they drank and smoked and skated and surfed their way through life on the last album.
And sure a lot of these questions about punk rock and what it means in todays culture are (annoyingly) addressed, but Too doesn’t really bother to ask any new questions – its more of a series finale than a season finale in that way, wrapping everything up without bothering to riddle its audience with a “On the Next Season of FIDLAR…” There are certainly some unintended questions about entitlement on this album, some reference to mommy and daddy and the people who are no doubt paying for the 21st century punk’s lifestyle – but those questions existed on FIDLAR as well. Those questions remain interesting, but with the themes of sobriety its hard to really care. I think we can imply that the men from FIDLAR are somewhat entitled and think they’re owed something; rehab, the sweats and kicking meth aren’t dissimilar to coke, beer and weed in that regard.
Their idols Blink-182 similarly drank and smoked and skated and surfed their way through their careers, but at a certain point they grew up – and they grew up alongside their fan base. Certainly many fans (myself included) were disappointed by the transition made on blink-182 and on subsequent follow-up albums, but it’s hard to be mad about it; the argument could be made that Mark Hoppus being 43 and STILL singing nightly about waiting for the girl he met at the rock show’s parents to be out of town is even stretching it, but he wrote that song when he was in his 20’s. FIDLAR, after only two records, don’t have to grow up yet and this record seems like an unfortunate statement.
“…FIDLAR is an album for the here and now – an encapsulation of youth culture, but the songs hint towards something greater in the future.” I wrote that in an end of the year wrap up two years ago. I suppose in many ways these songs did what I thought they would, which was address their own concerns about punk and punk rock. It’s just a shame how forward and obvious they are about addressing those questions, and how unlistenable they are at times. The snotty hits still exist on this album, but Too exemplifies a truth about the music industry that most people accept but don’t talk about: Getting sober makes the music less interesting. When you’ve cut your teeth on songs about drinking and doing drugs, it’s hard to see where you go when you’re a twenty-something punk band who is now sober. Grade: C