The Get Up Kids
The lyrics to "Red Letter Day," off The Get Up Kids' just-released sophomore album Something to Write Home About, don't stand out from the rest of the songs on the disc. The song seems to tell the story of yet another broken heart, one more high school romance gone astray: "You're just a phase I've gotten over anyhow...How could you do this to me?" Nothing that different from what the band writes home about in almost every song, the kind of failed relationships you think you'll never live through but probably will. It's only when the song burns through its bridge that it becomes clear it wasn't a girl who spurned singer-guitarist Matt Pryor and the rest of the band after all. Instead, it was the coldest mistress of them all -- a record label, most likely Mojo Records. "And if it's a lie, I don't want to be the one who signed," Pryor sings. "I'm not the one who falls down. It's over now." Few other bands could make business sound so personal.
And maybe The Get Up Kids' misfire with Mojo was more personal than most. Mojo, home to such bands as Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish and part of the omnipresent Universal Music Group, courted the group for much of this year, a situation that left the group with a bigger problem than who would release its records when the negotiations finally broke down. After all, little else has hypersensitive punk kids screaming "Judas!" faster than one of their bands even thinking about talking to a major label. Except maybe hiring a keyboard player, which the group also did earlier this year when former Coalesce drummer James Dewees joined the band. Keyboards mean pop songs, and God forbid they write a song that you can sing along with instead of scream, or so the messages posted on Web bulletin boards would have you believe. Of course, that's missing the point -- they've been doing that all along. The melody may get bruised and beaten, but it's always there.
Dewees' presence only confirms what The Get Up Kids have been about since they released their first single ("Shorty" b/w "The Breathing Method") in 1996 on their own tiny Huey Proudhon Records. (The single, limited to 2,000 copies, now fetches more than $50 on eBay.) Pryor and Jim Suptic's guitars are louder, the rhythms (courtesy of the Pope brothers, bassist Robert and drummer Ryan) are more erratic, and Pryor sings as if he's angry at his throat, but 1997's Four Minute Mile and Something to Write Home About are both more pop than punk, cathartic but not always chaotic. Something's "Out of Reach," all cascading harmonies falling over a gentle acoustic guitar and gentler piano, would seem to out the band once and for all, much more than just a quiet version of a loud song (cf. Green Day's "Good Riddance"). Sure, the band isn't doing anything that Superchunk hasn't been doing for the past decade; as a friend says, you don't really need a Get Up Kids record as long as you own a copy of No Pocky for Kitty. But as long as they keep writing songs like "Out of Reach," you just might want one.