By Venus Rittenberg, Staff Writer
[SideOneDummy Records; 2016]
Key tracks: “Festival Song”, “Blast Damage Days”, “Rainbow”
Jeff Rosenstock has been a defining figure in punk for decades. You can find him in the ska and DIY scenes with his bands The Arrogant Sons of Bitches and Bomb the Music Industry!, in the field of pop-punk pursuing his solo career, and amongst his large and highly consistent discography, WORRY. WORRY. is a 37-minute odyssey through Jeff’s political anxieties, views on love, and how the two intersect, making for a surprisingly mature and relatable pop-punk record for the modern political climate. Politics and love are perhaps the two most human experiences, which is what makes WORRY. such an inevitably relatable and touching album. WORRY. is also unique in the format: its second half, a series of punk vignettes that all flow perfectly into each other, inspired by the medley from Abbey Road.
Opposite of these fast-paced punk tunes on the album’s back half is the album’s introductory track, “We Begged 2 Explode“, a slow ballad that swells into a beautiful, theatrical finale. The song continues where Rosenstock’s previous releases left off, dealing with his insecurities about his choice of lifestyle. Rosenstock is 38, making him an older member of the predominantly young punk scene, and in songs like “Get Old Forever” off of WORRY.’s predecessor, We Cool?. Rosenstock has made it clear that he is aware of age and its implications.
However, “We Begged 2 Explode” sees Rosenstock finally embracing his lifestyle, being critical of those who choose a more typical way of life and telling those who judge him to fuck off. This song is followed by “Pash Rash“, another embracement of the punk lifestyle, which reinforces the themes of “We Begged 2 Explode” with lines like, “Fuck the haters who object, they’ve overrated self-respect.”
The third track, “Festival Song”, is pretty much the catchiest song of all time. Lyrically, this song is more political than the last two, as Rosenstock can be found criticizing America’s commercialist society and the commodification of everything that has consumed our culture. In the chorus, Rosenstock reminds us of the ever-important lesson that corporations are not our friends, and from here, the album only continues deeper into its political commentary.
The next couple of songs, “Staring Out the Window At Your Old Apartment” and “Wave Goodnight to Me”, see Rosenstock touching on gentrification. This theme is also referenced again later in the album with the songs “Bang on the Door” and “Rainbow”. “Bang on the Door” speaks of Rosenstock’s paranoia about being evicted. The bridge of the song begins with him feeling exhausted by the judgment from his neighbors, but goes on to also see him anxious about the impact of gentrification on his area and his ability to afford to continue living in his apartment.
“Bang on the Door” flows perfectly into “Rainbow,” perhaps the most powerful song about gentrification on the album. “Rainbow” is Rosenstock returning to ska, featuring lyrics about how gentrification is framed as a good and progressive thing when in reality it hurts people.
Throughout the track, Rosenstock uses strong imagery and metaphors to demonstrate the pain of eviction and gentrification, gradually building to a bit where he repeats, “We ain’t got no money, / We ain’t got no money / Yeah you got me, you got me, you got me, you got me.” He yells as if it’s a cruel joke, which, isn’t it?
Another political theme that WORRY. touches on is police brutality. The songs “To Be a Ghost…” and “The Fuzz” each contain a potent line about the execution of the innocent and unarmed, clearly an allusion to the murders of people of color at the hands of racist cops has become ever-so-present in our time. Fellow ACRN member Jonah Krueger referred to “To Be a Ghost…” as the epitome of the 21st century during the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, due to its lyrics on the theme of police brutality.
In addition to political themes, WORRY. also deals with Jeff’s feelings about love, both romantic and in general quite a bit. On the romantic side, “I Did Something Weird Last Night“, which details Rosenstock’s anxiety about wanting a girl to like him back (no worries, this story has a happy ending, the girl later becoming his wife), and “June 21st“.
While “June 21st” is not necessarily lyrically romantic, (it is merely a song about getting through winter and finally being able to enjoy being outside again) it’s named after the day that Rosenstock and his long-time girlfriend were married. It’s nice to see an artist so happy about their wedding date that they write an entire song about how much they love that day. Another wedding-related anecdote found in WORRY. is the cover art, which is a photo from Jeff’s wedding.
There are a lot of songs on WORRY. that muse on love in general, but the clearest is “…While You’re Alive“, which could perhaps be considered a thesis for the album with the line “Love is worry,” from which the album’s title is drawn. Jeff believes that a major component to love is worrying about a person; worrying about them knowing that they’re loved, and worrying that they’re okay.
However, the true centerpiece of the album sees all these themes colliding into one. “Blast Damage Days” is about love in a time of great political turmoil, not unlike our present era. It is the beginning of the aforementioned punk medley, and an absolutely brilliant song that contains some of the most powerful lyrics on the album. “When our towns fall to the ground / It won’t shatter me and you.”
It’s easy to feel like the end of the world is coming given all the hell going on, and Rosenstock captures what it feels like to have another person you know you can count on to face the oncoming end with. It’s a chilling, yet beautiful idea.
“And when we’re looking around / At all the shit that went down / ‘Cause half of us were too scared / And half of us were too proud,” is another genius lyric about how human greed is corroding the state of the world, and, when coupled with the prior line, could even lead to the apocalypse. This idea is continued in the next line, “To see the systems we start are destined to fall apart / When we let power and greed corrupt our collective heart.” Rosenstock is stating that greed is going to destroy us all and that we are in a pivotal time, the “blast damage days”, by which he means he believes the end could be near unless something drastic happens fast.
WORRY. is a work of brilliance, and one of my favorite albums of all time. Its lyrics are deep and thought-provoking, and yet they come in a fun and enjoyable pop-punk package. It’s a record I find myself listening to over and over again, sometimes even on loop. Sadly, the album continues to just get more and more relevant, so now is a great time to check it out. It is the ultimate pop-punk record, and absolutely worth getting to know if you are a fan of punk.