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Something Fierce - Don’t Be So Cruel

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Artist: Something Fierce

Album: Don’t Be So Cruel

Label: Dirtnap

Review date: Apr. 22, 2011

Something Fierce may be from Houston, but its sound always came straight out of Denton. Don’t Be So Cruel, however, is a clear break from the Marked Men method, finding a way to move from the ’77 punk they’ve been mainlining laterally into power-pop and forward into Messthetics territory.

The word “sugarcoated” is often employed when talking about power-pop, and it’s inaccurate in most cases. Those saccharine qualities run through the very heart of bands like Milk ’n Cookies or even Hunx and His Punx, which lends an ironic correctness to then calling them superficial. Something Fierce is different: the sugarcoating really does sit on the top to sweeten songs that are heartbreaking, mournful, pensive, and yes, even sentimental.

“Don’t Be So Cruel” could be just a personal entreaty with its wavy, plaintive chorus and simple mantra. Girls are mean, right? Boys, too. The main thesis, however, is not driven by hormones, but by a concern over global crisis. These boys don’t need a kiss or a dance or any kind of romance. “We need humanity / not henchmen” is the main takeaway here, and just like that, what could have been a preoccupation with high school drama reveals itself to be a comment on the human condition.

In terms of severity, these two programmatic motivations are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The cognitive dissonance, then, on songs like “Afghani Sands” is arresting and disruptive in a subtle way that more overtly political acts could only hope for. Rage Against the Machine and M.I.A. make “revolutionary” music that you can mosh to or dance to or nod along to via hysterically blunt politics. Yes, the fringe may take them seriously, but it’s mostly designed so that club kids and Hot Topic agitators can avoid any politicization in exchange for a good time. Something Fierce works the other way. The songs are immediately addictive, rhythmically complex anthems that will physically move you. Instead of reductive platitudes that speak to no one, however, there is personal doubt in our foreign policy. The war in Afghanistan is not superficially imposed onto a song as a political act here. It’s an invitation to more deeply consider the personal connection to world events, much the same that The Ramones want you to more deeply consider your personal connection to any number of Bowery girls. That invitation to pensiveness snaps the unthinking trance a good pop song can put you in, which is a pretty punk rock act in itself: writing songs that are great enough to pull you all the way in, only to eject you back into the pressing concerns of our geopolitical situation today.

So while Don’t Be So Cruel more often sounds like the dissembling apolitical “Back in the U.S.S.R.” or Rocket to Russia, it owes its deeper fundamentals to Minutemen. “What We Need Now” possesses not just the jazzy fills from “Viet Nam,” it also has that pedagogic quality that outlines the shit that we’re in, except without the cynicism or the bite. Something Fierce is nothing if not positive. Yes, they’re singing about dead ends (“Dying Young These Days”), the collapse of economic viability (“Ghosts of Industry”), and a loss of either faith or attention (“Empty Screens”). But these things are all symptomatic of the present, which is what the command of Don’t Be So Cruel looks to rectify. When they ask “What will become of future punks” on “Future Punks,” it’s not defeatism so much as a rallying call. It should come as no surprise that the most original, inventive, and forward-thinking song on the album should also point toward the shape of the future to come.

By Evan Hanlon

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