Ah, Epitaph Records, you always know where you stand with Epitaph Records don’t you? It’s unlikely you’ll be listening to any of their roster whilst luxuriating in a bath surrounded by seagrass linen scented candles and salted coconut bath scrubs. Epitaph don’t do whale birthing sounds, their ethos is more closely aligned to angrily socking it to ‘The Man’, mischievously getting into scrapes and generally living fast, dying prematurely and upholding the virtue that youth is wasted on the young. Guess what? I’ve described Joyce Manor to you in one easy to manage sentence. The Californian band have returned with the fifth album Million Dollars To Kill Me with a revised line-up, a mellower outlook but the same attitude of direct, approachable pop-punk that sits snugly within the Epitaph canon. Most importantly of all, the brilliantly named Chase Knobbe is still on guitar.
The album launches into ‘Fighting Kangaroo’ with the energy of a band who may well have written the track on a bus heading for the studio. It clocks in at a shade under two minutes and sets the template for the ongoing brevity of messages which come and go before you’ve had opportunity to digest. The rather sickly ‘Think I’m Still In Love With You’ tips the scales at 2 minutes 47 seconds and is the closest Joyce Manor ever come to a full on rock opera. You have to admire their efficiency.
If anything, it’s a little too warm and fluffy for my palette, album closer ‘Wildflowers’ is parked closer to Travis than Travis Head and whilst I’m a firm advocate of experimentation, the insipid ‘I’m Not The One’ is wetter than a haddocks bikini. Only ‘Big Lie‘ and ‘Up The Punx’ demonstrate any venom and gumption although the title track does find frontman Barry Johnson (the least rock n roll name EVER!) in a pensive and laconic mood as he chimes about a lost love “she’s the only one who could take you to a pawn shop and sell you for twice what you’re worth”. Being critical, I want more, much more of this resigned depression and less up-beat optimism; I guess after five albums the Manor are starting to grow up, become less rebellious and are starting to consider pension plans.
Yet there remains something endearing about Million Dollars To Kill Me, a certain bonhomie, a familiarity like a good pair of slippers or your Mum’s homemade shepherds pie recipe. It certainly isn’t the God-awful album cover which can only have been a spurious afterthought. Despite all my reservations about almost every track, I found myself regularly returning to the album time and again like Popeye Doyle hooked on junk.
After several listens, I can only conclude this album is the aural equivalent of Bake Off, it all looks so simple and fun yet every now and then someone makes a complete pigs ear of something and you’re left with a snigger and a very soggy bottom. In this instance, ‘Silly Games’ is the turkey complete with unnecessary glockonspiel; Bad Religion wouldn’t consider this sort of experimentation.
Million Dollars To Kill Me lasts around 22 minutes in total and is no mood to outstay its welcome. I have been known to sit on the toilet for a similar amount of time and the result is just as satisfying (and I didn’t have Chase Knobbe).
Million Dollars To Kill Me is out now on Epitaph