Rating: 5.75 out of 10
In the post-9/11 landscape, there’s no shortage of synonyms for “radical,” as news anchors have been spewing them non-stop for the last five years. We’ve all come to understand “radical” as more than just a SoCal-sun fried loosely enunciated term used to enthusiastically bolster the esteem of highly crested waves or new varieties of Sun Chips. Now, “radical” spells “danger,” and one that embodies “radical” characteristics can be coined “insurgent,” “subversive,” “rebel,” “fundamentalist,” “extremist…” You’ve heard them all.
To hear such a word applied to Born Radical, debut full-length by Thunderbirds Are Now! sideshow, Friendly Foes, “radical” takes the form of Disney-level adolescent tales of staying out past curfew because “fuck my parents…I mean, my parents don’t understand me,” or starting food fights in the cafeteria because “fuck authority…Oops, I mean, my teachers don’t understand me.”
Members of a pop punk underground, the likes of which probably resemble and house Les Savy Fav’s following, Friendly Foes tell an all-too familiar story with opening track, “Full Moon Morning:”
“Got an amp/Learned some chords/Tried to sing till my throat bled
Start a band/We were bored/Not sure what’s ahead
Picked a name/Picked a sound/Played some shows; the kids came out
But remain/Underground/When they couldn’t figure us out…”
A message to singer, Ryan Allen: It’s in your best interest to remain underground because that’s the ONLY reason you’ll ever be taken seriously.
Now, Friendly Foes know at least to keep their instruments somewhat lo-fi and they know to keep their songs fast and short. Hearing the energy of song, “Get Yr Shit Together” and the ultra-fast treatment employed to Black Sabbath’s “After Forever” bass line in “My Body (Is A Strange Place To Live),” Friendly Foes exhibit a better-than-average approach to the pop punk template (i.e. The Descendents, Hüsker Dü…etc.). But, with Allen’s copious snot and bassist Liz Wittman’s generic back-up, they’re almost a parody of themselves, putting an awful lot of stock into sentiments like “every once…gotta go wild once in a while” (“Wild (Once In Awhile)”), or poetically plastic observations like “I need redemption/I need some release/Like the breath you kept in/And let out to disrupt the peace” (“Breakfast Burritos”), expecting authentic results without realizing their music could be used to excite the small children in the county fare’s ball pit.
In what feels like an act of desperation, this “kid-friendly” vibe is attached to lines like “don’t let those mah-ther-fuh-ckers hold you dow-own,” mightily attempting to angst it up during “Rush The Land”’s uninspired take on “Lust For Life,” (which Jet already tried and predictably failed). Wittman’s only lead vocal, a paint-by-numbers piece of faux ‘tude called “Get Ripped,” winds up a poorly realized Sleater-Kinney replica that does more to generate appreciation for the style’s progenitors.
What’s unfortunate is that Friendly Foes has the means to be really good at what they do. They don’t lack chemistry or sound and they have the energy and potential to come up with something decent: a pop powered reconsideration or reassessment of the genre’s many drawbacks. But, reveling too much in the pop end of the spectrum, employing every overdone and well-established trick in the book, Born Radical, down to its unrealized promise of a title, only illustrates a band that needs to get its shit together.
Letters From A Tapehead