By Venus Rittenberg, Contributor
[Rough Trade, 2018]
Key Tracks: “Total Football”, “Tenderness“
Parquet Courts have flirted with various types of punk music since their inception, yet none of their albums are as explicitly punk as their last endeavor, Wide Awake! This project features witty political commentary over groovy art-punk tunes. The incredibly well-written lyrics — both political and otherwise — on this album illustrate how much Parquet Courts have evolved from their debut.
Musically, Parquet Courts haven’t changed drastically. They’ve become more punk, but they remain just as catchy as they’ve always been. It is in the lyrics and subject matter that the group shows its growing maturity. While one of their previous releases, Light Up Gold, is still quite a fun record, the lyrics are more along the lines of getting stoned and eating Swedish Fish than dealing with topics like climate change and communist theory. It is these well-written political lyrics that set Wide Awake! apart as the brilliant record it is. The first couple tracks on the album, “Total Football” and “Violence”, are perfect examples of these lyrics.
“Total Football” kicks off the album on an extremely high note. The song is high energy and immediately pumps up a listener. The choruses feature Andrew Savage yelling for different types of people, such as rebels, teachers, strikers and sweepers, to enact change. Savage is listing these groups because he is trying to demonstrate the power that communities can find when they all bind together, which is what “Total Football” is all about. The title refers to the theory that a football team should try to have all players master all different roles, so they can swap easily if need be. The thesis statement of this song comes close to the end when Savage yells, “Collectivism and autonomy are not mutually exclusive!” The idea here is that everyone should be able to pitch in and help their community and that doing so does not infringe on their individuality, challenging the argument that communism restricts personal freedoms. Earlier in the song, Savage lists several groups that he believes effectively utilized this idea of total football, such as the Black Panther Party and The Beatles. At the very end of the song, Savage yells one last comment about football: “And fuck Tom Brady!”
“Violence” is a punk jam about institutional racism in America. It is a song in which its lyrics beg for deeper thought. In the first verse, Savage states, “ATM machines that produce the likeness of the blazer of the trail of tears issuing overdraft fees from beyond the grave.” This line is about Andrew Jackson’s appearance on the 20-dollar bill being painfully ironic, as it is almost as if he can continue to figuratively bury people of color as he literally did in real life. In the chorus, the band repeatedly shouts, “Violence is daily life” and offers some reasons as to why that might be. Later in the song, Savage delivers my favorite line on the album, “[Riot] is a word used to delegitimize your unrest and to make your resistance into an overreaction.”
In a single line, Savage has explained the inherent problem with describing civil unrest as nothing more than uncivilized rioting, as it completely ignores the reasons for such actions and removes the question of whether or not the actions are indeed valid (or, at least, understandable). Toward the end of the song, Savage spews, “What is an up-and-coming neighborhood, and where is it coming from?” A clever line about gentrification.
“Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience” describes Savage’s frustration with the conservative right and how he is continuously losing patience and growing closer to just starting fights. The song captures a sense of frustration shared by many in recent years: “What if I’ve grown tired of being polite?” Savage asks. “Why am I searching for reason? I’m in the chaos dimension,” Savage sings, bringing up frustration with the state of the world.
Many memes have circulated the internet in recent years about how absurd our world is and how we’re in the “worst timeline.” Savage clearly agrees. This song leads right into “Freebird II,” a song about personal growth. Savage discusses various struggles he’s faced throughout his life, including substance abuse, and goes on to say how he’s become free from them. He points out how lucky he was to have the youth he had but also acknowledges that he’s happy to have grown. The song ends on a happy-sounding chorus, where the band chants, “Free, I feel free, like you promised I’d be!” It’s a song I often find myself listening to on repeat and one of my favorites from the album.
It is with these final thoughts that the album’s B-side begins. Side B features shorter songs that are much more high-energy and much catchier than Side A. Songs like “Wide Awake” and “NYC Observation” are hard not to aggressively bob your head along with.
Side B ends with the closing track, “Tenderness”, my favorite song on the album, and quite possibly my favorite song from the band overall. The thing that draws me to this song immediately is the beautiful piano hook, courtesy of Frank LoCrasto (not a normal member of the band). Savage told NPR that the song was supposed to be like a classic karaoke song, and this is quite a good description. “Tenderness” also mirrors the album’s opening track, “Total Football”, with once again similar themes of collectivism and community. The song is catchy, pretty and just all around enjoyable. Savage closes out the album by singing “I need the fix of a little tenderness.” And honestly, in today’s world, don’t we all? It’s a perfect way to end a fantastic contemporary punk record, which is exactly what Wide Awake! is.