Retrospective: Less Than Jake - “Anthem”
Back in the day, I saw the videos for “The Science of Selling Yourself Short,” and “She’s Gonna Break Soon,” and I really liked the straight forward pop-punk sound of the latter. I didn’t care for the ska leanings of the former, but I bought the album anyway, thinking I’d fall in love with it. I didn’t, and very few songs got any sort of rotation. But a few months ago, I dug this album back out, gave it a listen, and realized that my younger self was so, so, wrong about it.
It kicks off with “Welcome to the New South,” which is a decent song, but it really only serves as an intro. It doesn’t quite seem like a really realized track, but that is quickly forgiven when the next three songs are among the best on the album. “The Ghosts of Me and You,” “Look What Happened” (which appears in a re-recorded form, originally on Borders and Boundaries), and “The Science of Selling Yourself Short,” form the poppy backbone of the album. They are the glue that keeps the listener interested, even after a few sub-par tracks in the middle. Deep cuts like "The Upwards Was and the Down Turned Cycle," are just as raucous as the rest of the album, but lack the “it” factor and the strong lyricism presented elsewhere.
If Anthem starts out strong, the end really drives the point home. Starting with track 10, the band blasts through some thoughtful deep cuts that ultimately culminate in what can be considered an epic for a ska-punk band, “The Brightest Bulb Has Burned Out/Screws Fall Out.” The track takes listeners through quite the ride, though it is not my favorite from the final quarter. That honor goes to “That’s Why They Call It a Union,” a breakneck pace song that lyrically deals with divorce from the perspective of the child.
The lyrics are a strong point on this album, as common themes tie multiple songs together. Vocalist Chris Demakes deals with the deeper content, such as grappling with his stagnant friends, the “tragedies of minimum wage,” and divorce. It’s easy material to relate to for the average listener, which makes the songs connect just that much more.
All in all, I’m glad I found this album again. It’s my go-to Less Than Jake album to listen to, and it has inspired me to delve into their back-and-forward catalog, which offers some great songs as well. Though I was young when this album was realized, I can sense how this record acted as an Anthem to people of all ages. The production may someday date the product further, but the material and arrangements are timeless, and Anthem will remain in my rotation for many years to come.
Favorite Tracks: “That’s Why They Call It a Union” “The Ghosts of Me and You” “The Science of Selling Yourself Short”