Reggie and The Full Effect are a funny emo band. Both labels come with trappings and an unforgiving half life. In general, I have no truck for “funny” artists, normally failing to deliver in either category, as if the sum of the two mediocrities adds up to a satisfying whole (reviews, on the other hand, should always be funny). And with few exceptions, emo acts by tradition are supposed to age out of relevance while their audience doesn’t. So logically, such a band shouldn’t really be making something as good as 41 by their 7th album. Hell, if they’re somehow even releasing a 7th album it should be such a weak photocopy of whatever made them remotely entertaining in the first place that it’s utterly unworthy of your attention. Combining the emo themes and humour seems, like an acid and an alkaline, to create something palatable.
James Dewees’ secret is being a motherfucker who can actually write songs. He doesn’t lean on his characters to carry the records, and even the joke tracks are intriguing enough musically at the very least. The only other current musician in this vein that comes to mind is Andrew “Falco” Falkous (Future of The Left/Mclusky) with his one man band Christian Fitness. (Fitness did a cut not long ago called Reggie Has Asbestos Training, which if these guys weren’t so rando-bonkers hard to analyse I’d consider a shoutout.) His albums have always been a reliable grab bag of elements: catchy keyboard power-pop, electronic interludes, odd skits and inexplicable artwork. Why would you make a joke cover based on a seven-year-old Adele LP? The last outing, 2013’s No Country For Old Musicians, came out six years after the film it parodies, and features the seed of the new title in the wonderful birthday track 37 (where monsters kidnap Dewees for their own band). It’s like he’s reveling in the difference between the speed of the mainstream and his own as an artist, completely uninterested in breaking through, just doing his own thing. It’s hard to believe he hasn’t had something resembling a hit, to be honest.
This album is something of a grab bag too, but it might also be the most traditional Reggie work yet. There’s a rough pattern to the ouvre where if Dewees is going through some shit in his life, he reigns the wild horses in a bit. After his mid-to-late 2000s “serious” records, Songs Not To Get Married To (an emo divorce album, arguably showing that it’s not just a genre for kids who don’t yet know true pain) and Last Stop: Crappy Town (chronicling his daily journeys to drug rehab), Dewees seemed to get full-on back to the gonzo on NCFOM. With 41, he’s having a hard time again at the age in question, having recently lost several close family members. Which speaking as a mopey 33 year-old is uh, strangely comforting. Common to all the projects though is that you can just as easily listen to the whole tracklist as drop in anywhere, as Dewees is good at ordering and flow — a make or break skill when jumping between genres.
The first half mostly looks like it’s going to be sad. But you can never trust how these things look. The NCFOM tracklist was utter nonsense, yet the content itself was only largely nonsense. The transition from that record comes in the form of il Sniffy Incontra. It’s a single held organ note with a few church hall type lines over the top, that translates from the Italian as “Sniffy Meet.” Maybe it’s a Chumbawamba cover of a 600-year-old peasantry resistance song, or maybe on closer inspection it’s just a stupid clip about going out to your car to snort cocaine before a show. Who’s to say? il Pesce Svedese (Swedish Fish) is the same sort of pummeling pop-rock-punk after a bizarre intro as From Me 2 U back in the day. We continue to follow the golden-era emo mixtape momentum with a fast/slow bridge track as we go from Alone Again to Broke Down. You’d be reasonable to expect some more weird insane shit by this point. Patience, my kooky music lovers.
The breaks sustain with Heartbreak, synth bedroom pop that evokes Derby’s own Jyoti Mishra AKA White Town (best known for 1997’s gender bending one-hit wonder Your Woman, which still sounds great by the way). There’s a few tracks with this same aura. Karate School is a heavier, lurching rock song and is very silly. You can tell it’s silly because Dewees gave an unrelated silly fan fiction explanation for it about The Boy Who Lived utilising martial arts and fighting alongside ducks (or possibly against them). The next trio all seem to have a similar theme of mutual dependency with the ones you love, with the third being about someone named Maggie — perhaps that target of derision of so many angry young men of 1980s Britain and beyond, Chumbawamba included? Well no. If anything it’s about feelings alien to the iron lady, of care and compassion for the the people and animals around you. (“Mrs. Thatcher’s heart… oh, fuck that! I know, I’ll put a stone in.”)
Finally, our hero seems ready to let it loose with the magnificently titled Channing Tatum Space Rollerblading Montage Music. Courtesy of his British electropop alter-ego Fluxuation, Channing is a warbling, beat-manic bit of Detroit techno that you might have heard on Mary Anne Hobbs’ Breezeblock in the early 2000s while waiting for Mike Davies to come on. It’s a reference to a critically-panned Wachowski sisters film from 2015 called Jupiter Ascending, where Tatum had some zippy low-flying hoverboots; I was almost disappointed to learn that the title didn’t just bubble up organically from Dewees’ mind. It’s great, but not as loose with sensibleness as the name suggests; like I wrote earlier, the humour has always been secondary for The Full Effect. Move it into the background, and the important elements are still there. As leftfield as the change in genre might hit an uninitiated listener, there’s no need to understand or even be aware this that is a so-called “fake” persona of Dewees. He’s not taking the piss even though he appears to be, but using these characters as an avatar to try different things.
To a lesser degree, this is even true with Klaus of Common Denominator if you don’t pay close attention to the foolish words he’s spouting over his twinkle-spackled metal. Yes, not long after Channing Tatum comes Trap(ing) Music, where instead of rappers being caught “in the trap” we have bears and beavers being ambushed in the Finnish snowscape. The opening notes are very similar to the equally un-animal friendly Flyswatter by Eels. Perhaps rather than dumb fun this is a sick vision of the future: Scandinavian metal-influenced “brotrap” for cut whiteboy doofuses, signalling again the diminishing gas left in the tank of this hip hop era. The cold times continue on And Next With Feeling, a grand, dazzling ice palace of a track, before the album ends with Off Delaware. If there remained any doubt that middle age is still bringing the artist strife, this one brings it home in mum-friendly fashion, as a remembrance of Dewees’ own. Off Delaware is a sad violin and piano-led dirge. It’s not the visceral heartbreak of adolescence or the world-exploding volcano of late 20s divorce, but an all new sort of agony. This is the last of several elegant non-whiny crooners (New Years Day, Broke Down).
Having gone the long division route with the 14 numbers of 41 a particular picture appears. On paper, it seems obvious that this is more emo than funny, with lots of beauty and less fucking about than most previous albums (what our Tony of Nurgle described as “like trying to loot a corpse strewn battlefield with my hands tied behind my back to get to the good stuff”). 41 is more like the time Michael Moore reserved the pratfalls for a whole two-hour documentary to driving briefly around Congress in an ice-cream truck yelling through a loudspeaker while trying to oust George Bush from office. It might be easier to talk about the off-kilter moments, but for the most part RATFE here delve deeper into their 80s influences, delivering finally on the promise of their old-fashioned name and debut’s title (Greatest Hits 1984 – 1987). With all the soft whimsy, it’s a shame this was not released before Valentines Day. Enough of it is upbeat for that variety effect though. It adds to a positive start to the year for keyboard rock, with Jeff Rosenstock and Andrew WK also releasing new music (and yes when I come to write about AWK I’ll be sure to mention the other two). Maybe if you like to laugh with your music you’ll disagree, but the full effect of 41 is that it largely gives me the same safe guarantee of enjoyment as James Dewees’ older material, even when it’s not full-on oddball.
Another review, another punk crowdfunding effort for hospital bills, and, regretfully, funeral costs. Last week former Full Effect drummer Billy Johnson passed away. A Gofundme account has been set up for his wife and kids. Shite.
41 is out February 23rd. The vinyl will be available on white, white/black and white with black smoke right here. The French bulldog from the last album centre also makes a welcome return. The album is available to stream in full in the player below courtesy of Pure Noise’s bandcamp page.
Reggie and The Full Effect are also starting a U.S. tour on that same day.