I am known, where I am known, for being about as anti-emo as a person can get. I’ll not be marching in any black parades, I think this resembles a scene much more than an arms race, thank you very much, and I don’t give a fuck about whatever it is Dashboard Confessional sings about (I’m guessing it’s to do with crying and self-mutilating in your car whilst the girl of your dreams is out on a date with the captain of the football team or maybe walking through the rain thinking about how your ex girl was totally right about your faults)
So you might imagine I was drawn to The Pains of Being Pure At Heart like a guy who slaughters lambs is drawn to lambs. Who are then slaughtered. Metaphor = broken. At any rate, a name like The Pains of Being Pure At Heart deserves all the scorn you can heap upon it. So heap away. If it helps, their lead singer is named, I shit you not, Kip.
But a funny thing happens when you listen to their eponymous debut. Where you expect to find My Chemical Fall-Out-esque banshee wailing bullshit, you find instead that, despite the claims on their crapspace page, these guys are more like Modern English than like Kurt Cobain. They also list The Ramones among their influences and I can kinda see it – the album is the picture of brevity and bounce. Kip’s vocals are buried under noisy guitars and occasionally surface to belt out a chorus with the help of keyboardist Peggy (aren’t they precious? None of them have last names!).
So what’s in a name, right? I mean, a good band by any shitty name is still a good band. But I can’t think of too many bands with terrible names that are really good, can you? The Pains of Being Pure At Heart are to 80s pop and shoegaze (I think it’s shoegaze – it’s music that’s fuzzy and noisy and would probably sound a lot better if you did a bunch of heroin all the time – think The Jesus Mary Chain or My Bloody Valentine) what the Black Keys and White Stripes are to the blues, meaning that they’re absolutely unoriginal and yet, on balance, completely enjoyable.
The Pains, as I’ll call them for short (because their name really is unbearable), don’t wait long to throw you off the emo scent, opening their album with a one-two punch of “Contender” and “Come Saturday,” both of which are jangly, pop songs, with Kip’s voice not even really rising to a shout (much less a banshee wail) when he sneers, “You never were/ you never were a contender” or whatever it is he says on “Come Saturday”, which also features a nifty guitar lick that wouldn’t be out of place on an early 90s Cure album. Kip’s voice is so soft and buried in the mix (someone in the control room was sleeping on the knobs marked “bass” and “guitar” because you mostly hear those two things really well and the other things slightly less well) that it’s often hard to make out what he’s saying, but when I can, it’s definitely not emo. It’s usually something fairly harmless like “you’re my sister/ and this love is fucking right.” I’m sure he means “sister” in a spiritual sense, right? Right?
A lot of critics have gone all gooey over The Pains, and that’s due in large part, I think, to their hook-laden, melodic poppiness. The ten tracks that make up The Pains of Being Pure At Heart are catchy as hell, to the point that it might start to feel a little formulaic by the end. So whether or not you like this album will depend largely on how soon the formula starts to wear thin with you. I’ve been through the album about a dozen times and can still find it fairly pleasant – it’s probably not gonna top my year-end list or anything, but it’s an enjoyable listen and it’s fun to tell my friends that I like a band called The Pains of Being Pure At Heart and wait for them to search my medicine cabinet for guyliner.
The Pitchfork reviewer turned in a fairly defensive endorsement of the Pains that basically shot its load on the premise that you’re just being a big old meany (I think their word was “asshole”) if you think that only old bands from Way Back When should be allowed to dabble in the fuzzy, melodic pop that is all over The Pains’ debut. I chuckled when I read that becuase I don’t know anyone who thinks that way. Of course the Pains are allowed to do What Has Been Done Before; lots of bands do it and some do it incredibly well (cough *Hold Steady* cough) while some do it incredibly poorly (vomit *Brian Jonestown Massacre* more vomit). All rock music, hell all music, is built on what came before it (yes, Pitchfork, even your precious Radiohead; where are your rock gods now?) but there’s something to be said for making something feel new and interesting, you know, for putting your own stamp on the thing. If someone doesn’t like The Pains because they find Kip & Co. too derivative, that’s perfectly fine with me. It doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the album in the slightest, and it’s a valid criticism (much like when people don’t like Stephen Malkmus, whom I adore, because they find him pretentious – it’s a valid criticism and it just so happens that I’m able to forgive him for it). You’re not an asshole if you don’t like The Pains, you’re an asshole if you dictate to people the grounds upon which they may or may not like an album.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart is a good listen, it’s brief, and I suggest this little experiment when you get to the end of the album: picture this band covering Modern English’s “Melt With You”. I can imagine this so clearly that if I ever see them live, I will shout a request for this song so loudly and so frequently that they’ll have to fucking play it.