It seems to be the case that just around the turn of the millennium everyone’s taste in music was solely informed by the soundtracks of American Pie movies and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games. It was a magical time when everyone spoke in barbed witticisms ripped straight from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the world seemed like it could break into one big breakdance fight at any moment. This is the soundtrack of that time.
Nostalgia is a powerful drug. Like most opiates, sovaldi it isn’t very good for you, check but you don’t take it for its benefits. You take it because it’s addictive. The people at UMTV are keenly aware of the massive population of recovering pop-punk addicts out there and have released Teenage Dirtbags – a compilation so ‘of-its-time’ it could have been crafted solely from teenage angst and abandoned skateboards. It’s hard to review a compilation that essentially takes one’s adolescence ransom. On the one hand, patient the vast majority of these songs are bereft of artistic to the point of contempt. On the other hand it has All-Star by Smash Mouth on it! And The Rasmus! Remember ‘The Rasmus’? Because that’s what this album does best. It’s a parade of things that you’d forgotten all about when you were busy getting that puberty business over and done with.
Beginning with the titular Teenage Dirtbag; a song which itself is a parody of the very thought of this album, the compilation flicks through hits from bands who had way too many tattoos and too few original thoughts. Examining these songs in 2013 gives the listener the distinct impression that there are two types of song featured here: songs soullessly focus tested and designed specifically to appeal to the mass market; and songs dedicated to making fun of that first type of song. While Bowling for Soup is joking and having fun, we have Papa Roach trying to make suicide look appealing. This is an album that knows exactly what it is doing and tells you as much with its inclusion of Reel Big Fish’s Sell Out towards the end of disc one.
Before the term ‘pop punk’ was forced into the zeitgeist, hardcore punk bands like Black Flag and Fugazi expressed an anger and discontent that would influence the likes of Pixies and Nirvana. After Rage Against The Machine started, well, raging against the machine, the commercial appeal of the counterculture aesthetic could no longer be denied. Then, in the mid-90s this approach to music was neutered and defanged by record executives and overzealous producers and marketed as ‘pop punk.’ This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – at least twerking wasn’t a thing yet, but it created an atmosphere where everything sounded so similar that it raises questions, one of the most prominent being ‘why do so many tracks on this album sound like they are being wailed by the same nasally, high-pitched malcontent?’
There are some real headscratchers featured here. Why is 1994-Weezer rubbing elbows with Metro Station? In what way is Queens of the Stone Age ‘pop punk’? How on earth can Evanescence and The Bloodhound Gang be put alongside each other? And in a compilation featuring “the greatest pop-punk anthems” where-oh-where is Good Charlotte’s The Anthem – a song that literally touts itself as ‘The Anthem’? Another gripe, albeit a pedantic one, is that this compilation boasts itself as ‘The United State of Pop Punk,’ clad in red, white and blue, in a baffling attempt to tie the music to some romantic idea of America. Not only is this an inexplicable point to sell the compilation on; it’s also patently false. Sum 41 is Canadian. The Rasmus is from Finland. The frustratingly named A, though you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, is an English band. But, inarguably, the bands themselves do contribute to an aesthetic that is unapologetically American in spirit, if not necessarily American.
Suffice to say, Teenage Dirtbags is a perplexing album. If this is the type of music you listened to in its heyday, you probably already own most of the lead tracks on this album – those by Blink-182, Bowling for Soup, Wheatus and Sum 41. However, there is a lot of stuff on this album that, while obviously not new, is still quite revelatory. Len’s Steal My Sunshine is an altogether pleasant if inconsequential listen, whereas Head Automatica’s Beating Heart Baby is a horrific car crash of misguided creative decisions that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The album itself is a serviceable amber for preserving a bundle of songs, though not particularly well curated, which you might have forgotten until they featured on the soundtrack of a major motion picture. On the whole, Teenage Dirtbags is practically a tax on your teenage years, but is a price worth paying.