Month: October 2012

50 Ways To Say Goodbye, or The Lyrical Inadequacies of Patrick Monahan

I have a love/hate relationship with the band Train, but when they released “50 Ways To Say Goodbye,” I had to take notice. I have a huge musical soft spot for catchy, up-beat songs about dark, depressing subjects and “50 Ways,” with its mariachi-style horns and lyrics about a chronic liar describing all the ways his partner died, is right up my alley. Also, I’m pretty sure the title is a Paul Simon reference, and hey, who doesn’t love a good Paul Simon reference?

I’m flattered that Train cares so much about having me as a listener, but I still have some reservations… and most of them have to do with the lyrics of front man Patrick Monahan. It all began with “Hey, Soul Sister,” the inescapable song that transformed Train from a one-single-an-album band that barely existed after “Drops of Jupiter” into a full-on pop radio fixture.

“Hey, Soul Sister” was a song that wore out its welcome fast, but I’m not immune to the allure of a strong melody—far from it, in fact—so I was onboard with it for a while. I tried to ignore the lyrics for a while, but in the end, I couldn’t deny how terrible they were. First of all, I guess “Mr. Mister” is an easy rhyme for “soul sister,” but I find it hard to believe anyone has ever “moved” to a Mr. Mister song. And the less said, the better about the embarrassing, “So gangster, I’m so thug” line from the bridge.

The less-successful-but-still-ever-present follow-up “If It’s Love” had a noticeably weaker melody, which put more pressure on the lyrics to not be terrible. For most of the song, they weren’t! The first verse in particular has a set of lines about the narrator’s fears about married life: after a lifetime of hearing stories and jokes about unhappy marriages, he’s understandably a little worried that his own might go sour. But he loves this woman, so he’s doing his best to put all that aside. It’s a sentiment that rarely gets expressed in our culture, much less in our pop music, and I for one found it refreshing!

One problem, though: two lines earlier, in the middle of the verse, Monahan spits out this couplet: “My feet have been on the floor, flat like an idle singer/Remember Winger? I digress.”

What is that? Why is that in the song? Is it supposed to be a joke? He says, “I digress,” as if this was a live conversation he was having instead of, you know, a song. I guess no one ever told Pat Monahan what a “second draft” was.

The rest of the lyrics to the song are equal parts charming and goofy, and the song as a whole would be an acceptable-to-good Top 40 song if it weren’t for that stupid digression Monahan makes for the sake of an unfunny reference to a band that, no, Pat, I don’t remember.

And then came “Drive-By.” Oh, “Drive By.” Again, great melody, and the verses are propulsive and catchy, but then you get to the chorus…. Look, I can almost ignore those two lines of “If It’s Love,” because it’s just two lines. But “Drive-By” has an incredibly dumb metaphor imbedded in the chorus, so I get to hear it three times during the song, and each time is like having a sewing needle plunged into my brain.

The culprit? “Just a shy guy/looking for a two-ply/Hefty bag to hold my love?” Huh? So, your love is garbage? That must be what he’s saying, I don’t know what else it could possibly mean…. but that can’t be what he wanted to say, because that wouldn’t make any sense. So, I’m stuck trying to figure out what sort of deranged mind would put that metaphor in a love song, and meanwhile, the song is rolling on through the second verse, and now we’re back at the chorus, and I’m so annoyed I have to change to station. Good job, Pat, you ruined another fine song with your lyrical diarrhea.

I’m sorry; I actually hate the phrase “verbal diarrhea” or any variation on it. It’s like “brain fart,” it’s super gross and you easily say something else. Let’s pretend I said something a little cleverer like, “Good job, Pat, you ruined another fine song with your unfiltered crap-spewing brain”. There, that’s good. But, I digress.

Wasn’t that kind of annoying? Well, you know what, Monahan? I learned it from watching you. I learned it from watching you!

“50 Ways to Say Goodbye” mostly avoids this trap by picking one lyrical idea and sticking to it: this guy can’t deal with his girlfriend leaving him, so he’s lying to all of his friends about what happened to her. It’s darkly comic, kind of farcical, and it works… right up until the end of the second verse.

Someday I’ll find a love like yours

She’ll think I’m Superman

Not super-minivan

How could you leave on Yom Kippur?

What happened here, Monahan? This is a huge step back. Those other lines are stupid, but at least I knew what they meant (at least I think I know what a hefty-bag full of love is meant to symbolize). This? I don’t even know what’s going on. The narrator’s girlfriend thought he was… super-minivan? So she thought he was uncool? Is that what the joke is? That minivans are lame? Ha… ha?

And that Yom Kippur thing… if the narrator is Jewish, then it kind of makes sense, but since there’s no mention of Jewishness in the rest of the song, it just comes off as a cheap joke, something intended to illicit a laugh just because it sounds silly and not because it’s actually funny. And you know what? I think that’s exactly what’s happening here.

In the many hours I spent dwelling upon this line, a possibility occurred to me, as I am sure it has occurred to you: maybe Pat Monahan is Jewish! Well, it turns out, he isn’t, which I discovered when a Google search lead me to my new favorite blog, “Jewish or Not?”

Never change, internet.

“So,” asks no one, “If you could leave Patrick Monahan with one piece of advice, what would it be?”

Patrick, you are, at least by the technical definition, a songwriter. Specifically, you are the songwriter for an adult-contemporary rock band. Your job is to craft a set of lyrics that go with music. Ideally, these lyrics should tell a story, or make a point, or capture an emotion… and you’ve almost got it! But all of the lyrics in a song need to fit inside of whatever theme you’re exploring. If you want to throw in a quick, humorous aside, it needs to be relevant.

Here’s the most frustrating part, Pat: I know you’re capable of doing this, because I’ve seen you do it. Remember the first verse of “Meet Virginia,” a character study about a quirky woman and the man who loves her? In the midst of a long description of the titular character, we have the line, “Smokes a pack a day/Wait, that’s me/But, anyway.”

That sort of thing is fine! In fact, it’s downright good, because it plays with our expectations and gives us a little insight into the song’s narrator. I don’t know how you got from that to “super-minivan,” but… well, there’s no “but,” really, you just need to stop doing it.

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666 Park Avenue, “The Hero Complex”

666 Park Avenue is never going to be a show with deep, fleshed-out characters. That’s not a shot against the writers, that’s just the kind of show it is. It doesn’t need deep, fleshed-out characters. Park Avenue isn’t character-driven because it’s built from the template of horror movies, which are typically plot-driven. This ‘character/plot-driven’ division is sometimes exaggerated (especially in discussions of ‘genre’ writing and ‘literary’ writing), but it’s still a good way to adjust your expectations for a work of art. Even if it fulfills its potential and becomes a pulpy, thrill-a-minute creep-show, 666 Park Avenue is never gonna be Deadwood.

666 Park Avenue does have one big thing in its favor: the show wants us to like the characters. Even if the characters never “come alive,” the writers at least want the audience to enjoy spending time with them. This attitude stands in stark contrast to the strategy behind The Walking Dead, which appears to be “make everything feel as unpleasant to the viewer as it does to the characters.” That’s some real post-modern, viewer-immersion type stuff they’ve got going on, but it doesn’t make for good entertainment.

Let’s look at the main couples from both shows: From the moment we meet Jane and Henry, they’re walking arm in arm, laughing and joking about their new apartment. As the show goes on, we see the comfortable way they interact with each other, bantering about their day and making kissy-faces. Sure, it gets laid on a little thick sometimes—and it’s kind of hard to enjoy it, knowing that things probably won’t end well for them—but it’s refreshing to see a couple on television that don’t despise each other.

Now, compare that with Rick and Lori Grimes from The Walking Dead, who are literally arguing with each other before the series even begins. Seriously. In the first post-credit scene of the pilot, Rick and Shane are complaining about how terrible women are—in a way that now seems to foreshadow the entire series—and Rick is going off about something terrible that Lori said to him, and how he could never be that cruel. So, before we even meet the female half of this marriage, we know that she is just the worst, and that the Grimes have a relationship built on abusing one another in front of their son.

Okay, so, obviously, all couples fight, that doesn’t mean they’re bad people. And the creators of The Walking Dead were pretty much beholden to the Rick/Lori relationship from the comics the show is based on (a relationship that is problematic in entirely different ways). But the fact remains that we’re supposed to be rooting for these characters and yet we’re given no reason to care about them. At least the creators of 666 Park Avenue are trying to make us like Jane and Henry.

“The Hero Complex” was a messy episode of 666 Park Avenue. However, it wasn’t miserable to watch, partially because the main characters are attempting to do the right thing, whether it’s Henry re-committing himself to Gavin’s friendship or Jane showing lenience with Nona, the Drake Thief. As the semi-ironic title suggests, they may be misguided in their noble actions—in Henry’s case, there’s no “may be” about it—but they’re still acting like heroes, people you might actually want to spend time with.

Part of what made this episode messy was the number of stories running through it. Earlier episodes have mostly focused on Jane’s exploits, with the Damned of the Week as a b-story and the friendship between Henry and Gavin turning up occasionally. “The Hero Complex” had four plotlines, and the episode suffered for it.

The biggest offender, I’m sad to say, is the continuing saga of Annie the journalist and the Russian hit man she wrote into existence. The Damned Of The Week is the aspect of the show that I’m most fascinated by, and when Annie appeared, I was excited that her story was continuing into another episode. It turned out to be pretty much useless, though. The end result of this plotline, which featured some of the show’s worst dialogue (Annie runs around making bold declarations to herself such as “I have to warn him!” and “What have I done?”), was two-fold: Annie gets killed in an off-handed manner, and Kandinsky attempts to murder Henry’s former employer.

It was nice to see the Kandinsky story dovetail with Henry’s moral dilemma, especially when Henry decides not to compromise his values even though it costs him his job. Henry’s character has so far been nebulously defined as “the good boyfriend who is a lawyer”, and while this didn’t add much nuance to that, it did bring some sharper definition to it. Now, he’s “the pretty good boyfriend who used to be a lawyer and will risk his life to save a guy who just fired him”. It’s a little wordy, I admit.

This episode suffered for another reason, though: Jane was barely in it. That means we only got a few (admittedly creepy) scenes of freaky supernatural business, while most of the episode was turned over to half-hearted corporate intrigue. Henry isn’t as interesting as Jane, if only because Jane is the one who understands something strange is going on. Meanwhile, Henry’s main concerns have to do with property development and Gavin and blah blah blah. Get a clue, Henry! Your girlfriend is already talking to creepy little girl ghosts like it’s nothing and you still think she’s just dragging out old luggage for the hell of it.

In real life, Henry would probably be just as freaked out as Jane. But this isn’t real life, this is a work of genre fiction, so the characters will go wherever the plot needs them to go. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just the way that this kind of story works. There’s no shame in characters being pawns as long as their actions make sense… oh, yeah, and as long as we don’t mind spending an hour with them each week.

  •  I guess no one cares about that Councilman that Gavin murdered? In fact, it seems like he’s still making calls, if Henry’s comment about getting blown off is any indication.
  • My biggest take-away from this week’s Nona story: apparently, she has the same kind of powers that Johnny Smith had in The Dead Zone.
  • This week we got more of Nona the Thief and Tony the Doorman, but we didn’t check in with Brian and Louise. I’m not complaining, but it is curious that parts of the supporting cast disappear and reappear between episodes.
  • I didn’t mention the poorly rendered CGI smoke because I couldn’t decide between a joke about the smoke monster on Lost or a joke about the similarly terrible purple fog from ABC’s Once Upon A Time. 

666 Park Avenue, “The Dead Don’t Stay Dead”

It’s becoming more and more apparent that 666 Park Avenue is all bout mystery.

When I thought that Gavin Doran was the devil himself, or something like it, I thought the arc of the show would follow Jane as she slowly uncovered the truth. That’s a reasonable premise for a movie, but for a television show, it sounds dreadfully dull, and more than that, it sounds predictable.

Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. Obviously, this show isn’t The Wire (although the insufferable news editor from Season 5 makes a brief appearance in this episode), but it’s shaping up to be a little more complex than Rosemary’s Baby: The Series.

First, there’s Gavin himself. He still appears to be some sort of demon with sinister wish-granting powers, but those powers manifest themselves in ways that don’t make him seem like he’s straight-up Lucifer. Look at the women he helps in episodes two and three: sure, his “help” ends up costing them dearly, but it’s not implied that a “for-your-soul” bargain took place. Hell, in this episode, Annie the journalist doesn’t even ask him for help, she just suddenly attains the power to change reality with her words.

And if Gavin is the devil, why does he seem so interested in Henry’s political career? We know that the Dorans need to “get Henry” for something, but what, exactly? And speaking of which, what’s the deal with Olivia Doran? Did she just marry into this demonic lifestyle, or is there more to her story? When Gavin tells Henry that he knows what it’s like to come from nothing and fight for everything you get, is it a lie or a hint about his true origins? What’s up with that thief girl who gave Jane the article last episode? Why can she see the future? Why wasn’t she in this episode? Why wasn’t my favorite character Tony the Doorman in this episode? Where’s Tony? WHERE IS HE, YOU MONSTERS?

The show wouldn’t work if I didn’t care about the answers to any of those questions, but I actually do. Sure, it’s based on curiosity of what direction the show’s going to take as opposed to me needing to follow these characters wherever they go… but, hey, interest is interest, and if a show can make me this curious, it’s doing something right.

Of course, when a series is based around mysteries, the creators are taking a big risk. It’s a risk that isn’t present in short-form mysteries, like an Agatha Christie novel or an episode of Law and Order. When an audience becomes invested in the mysteries of a long-running television show, they expect a good payoff, and if you don’t deliver that, you are screwed. Even if you do solve the mystery, viewers can still turn on you if it isn’t exactly what they wanted. Just ask anyone who bailed on the second half of Twin Peaks, or any of those people who didn’t understand Lost.* 

Yes, dear reader, I hear you: this business about mystery is all well and good, this is supposed to be a horror show, confound it! Shouldn’t 666 Park Avenue be trying a little harder to scare us?

True, the show is rarely “scary,” but it does its best to cram each episode full of horror tropes. This episode alone had Jane hallucinate blood pouring out of the mystery door and then seeing a creepy little girl in the hallway, whispering creepy little girl thing. Whether or not something is “scary” is purely subjective, but there’s no denying that the creators of Park Avenue have at least a basic knowledge of horror movies.

Besides, I’m not entirely convinced you can really “do” horror on television, at least not the way it’s done in movies. American Horror Story took the general framework of a haunted-house movie and stretched it out to 12 episodes, and we ended up with… well, I’m still not sure what exactly we ended up with.But for all the things that American Horror Story is, “scary” is not really one of them. Maybe it has to do with pacing or maybe it’s just hard to build an atmosphere when you have to break for commercials every ten minutes.

But that’s a broad subject, better suited for another time. And hey, you can’t say Park Avenue isn’t at least trying to scare us. So far, we’ve gotten one big “horror” set piece per episode:  In the pilot, it was the guy getting thrown against the wall and consumed in a manner that reminded me of the underrated The Exorcist 3. In the second episode, it was the exterminator getting attacked by birds and then ran over, which was laughable. I mean, seriously laughable. As in, I laughed at it.

“The Dead Don’t Stay Dead” gave us the short but well-executed scene of Kandinsky, Annie’s made-up Soviet assassin, coming into existence and breaking into Annie’s apartment. And speaking of him: the lack of resolution to the Damned Of The Week sub-plot was baffling to me… until I saw the “next week on” previews during the credits. I know, that’s cheating, but I’m glad I saw them, because I caught a glimpse of Kandinsky in the next episode. I wouldn’t be surprised if we never saw Annie again, but the fact that part of this week’s sub-plot is going to continue into next week is exciting, as it continues to dismantle my original low expectations.

Some of the mysteries within the plot of 666 Park Avenue are a little clunky—Jane finally unlocked the mystery door, and inside she found a MYSTERY BOX—but the meta-mysteries of what kind of show this is going be, where is everything going… I’m finding those more compelling as time goes on. Hopefully, I’m not the only one.

* – On the real, Lost isn’t a perfect show, but most of the people who still complain about the show’s “unsolved mysteries” are just being needlessly pedantic.

666 Park Avenue

There’s something fun about watching a show that has terrible ratings. I know, I know, it goes against the entire idea of “water cooler” television, shows you can’t wait to discuss with your co-workers/family/friends… I mean, everyone knows it’s fun to talk about TV, yeah?

“Aw, man, did you see Breaking Bad last night?”

“Yeah, I did! It was crazy! I can’t believe that happened!”

“Totally intense! That show is soooooooo good, though.”

“Aw, yeah, man, but it’s not as good as Mad Men.”

“What? No way, Breaking Bad is where it’s at, b.”

“But Mad Men artfully creates an atmospheric portrait of a time gone by, homes.”

And so on and so forth. But you don’t get that experience when you watch a show in a vacuum.

“Hey, man, did you see Men At Work last night?”

“No, because I’m not a shut-in. Leave me alone.”

It’s not nice, right? People’s feelings get hurt.

Well, maybe this is coming from someone who watches too much television—huh-huh, yeah, you think—but it’s a neat feeling to watch a show that no one else is watching. I’m talking shows with ratings in the low millions. In real life, a million people is kind of a lot, but in terms of television ratings? You might as well be watching that show by yourself.

This works better for dramas than comedies. When a comedy is failing, it’s kind of sad—it’s like watching a stand-up performer bomb. It’s not quite as viscerally unpleasant, but you’re still watching someone fail to make people laugh.

With dramas, it almost feels like you’re hearing a secret, a story passed down through the ages, only told to a select few, and guess what? You’re one of them!

It seems that 666 Park Avenue, ABC’s new serialized horror series, might be fated to join this realm of secret tales.  The premiere netted nearly 7 million viewers, something of a drop-off from the lead-in Revenge, but not terrible. Episode two, however, dropped by nearly two million, which is… not encouraging.

I was interested in 666 Park Avenue before I found out about the abysmal ratings. Part of it was curiosity (“How are they going to take what is basically Rosemary’s Baby and stretch it out to a whole series”) part of it was actor loyalty (“It’s good to know that Terry O’ Quinn is still getting work”), but a large factor was my love of genre TV. Sci-fi, horror, if anything like that turns up on television, I’ll probably check it out at the very least.

This has caused me some problems in the past. I stuck with Alcatraz even when it became clear it would never fulfill its potential, and I’m pretty sure I’ve spent more time thinking about FlashForward than anyone actually involved with the show’s production. But in a way, I am like every major network since 2004: I’m always looking for the next Lost.

Now, the pilot of 666 Park Avenue wasn’t exactly enthralling. Only a few things really stood out to me, including the two separate characters that were eaten by the titular demonic apartment and the fact that the actual address of the building is 999 Park Avenue, which inexplicably becomes 666 when casting a shadow.

Over the course of the first hour, my curiosity about the show curdled into a disappointed incredulity. How could they POSSIBLY keep this show running for even a season? No matter how long they draw out the central mystery of the show (what’s going on with that there building?), we know from basically the first scene that Terry O’Quinn’s character Gavin Doran is the devil. Or at least some sort of devil. Or he and his wife are… both the devil. Or something.

Terry O’Quinn also stood out to me, but in a positive way. He’s an actor who so effortlessly exudes a mysterious air that I can’t tell if he’s bored with a scene or completely engaged. If you want to add nuance and intrigue to a character that appears to be literally Satan, you could do a lot worse than Mr. O’Quinn.

I finished the pilot episode already mentally writing the show off. I would watch the next episode (and, let’s be honest, several after that) out of a sense of obligation, but I wasn’t excited about it.

Maybe it was a case of lowered expectations, but the second episode, “Murmurations,” actually impressed me, mostly in how it addressed my concerns of what the show would look like week-to-week. When I saw how much of the pilot was given over to a character making a deal with Doran and then being killed for it, I guessed that the show would include a plotline like that in every episode, a brief morality tale not related to the overall arc of the show. A Damned Of The Week, if you will.

As lame as it seemed at the time, I’m glad I was right. The Damned Of The Week in the second episode breaks from the first in that it doesn’t follow the boring arc of someone making a deal with the devil and then losing his soul/being removed from the show. The story this week has interesting twists and a few neat visual tricks, including a series of murders depicted in storybook style.

Better still, the Damned plotline intersects with the main story in some interesting ways, first when the main character Jane catches a glimpse of something she doesn’t understand behind the Creepy Door In The Basement, and then again when Doran confides in Jane’s husband about a property he’s purchased. I don’t want to give too much away—and really, there’s not all that much to give away—but the idea that everything that happens in the show is going to be somehow connected gives me hope going forward.

I’m still not entirely sold on the overall plot of the show, because it seems like there’s only one direction go: Jane and her husband eventually have to find out that Gavin Doran is evil. But I’ll be happy if the show can keep me entertained the way it did in the second episode: by throwing as much stuff at me as possible.

As I said before, the lead-in for 666 Park Avenue is Revenge. I first though that it was just a case of ABC trying to piggyback a new show on an established popular one. But it’s actually more than that. With its pulpy plotlines and never-ending twists, Revenge exemplifies “compulsively watchable” TV, and if 666 Park Avenue continues the level of improvement it showed in the second episode, it could easily join that category… and hopefully it won’t end up just another genre show with unfulfilled potential.

But even if it does… I’ll still be watching, you can count on that. Right to the bitter end. Right… to the bitter… bitter… end.

The Forty Ounce, Episode 13: I’ve Never Been Shanked Before

Despite all evidence to the contrary, that Forty Ounce train is still rollin’ on, and this episode is an all-Breaking Bad spectacular. Yes, for proof that Daniel and I can actually go forty minutes without talking about Pitbull, look no further! Well, okay, Pitbull does come up once or twice, BUT MOSTLY we’re talking about the recent season of Breaking Bad and discussing our Top 5 Songs In Breaking Bad.

Favorite parts of this episode: 1) I manage to form a cohesive explanation of why Breaking Bad has some of the best montages ever, 2) the outtakes at the end of the episode, which were much longer before I cut them down. Actually, I’ve started editing the podcast a lot more overall, so hopefully there’s less of those awkward pauses that happen when me and Daniel try to put words together.

Bowling For Soup; or, the Band Who Wouldn’t Grow Up

Our culture has a complicated relationship with the man-child.

For a while there, it seemed like we couldn’t get enough of grown men acting like children, especially in our movies. Some critics claimed that we were glorifying this immature behavior, with movies produced by Judd Apatow bearing a good portion of the blame. These critics usually ignored that most Apatow-brand movies ended with the main character growing up and taking responsibility for his life, but we’ll let that slide for now.

These days there seems to be a man-child backlash, which is good in a lot of ways: as any woman who’s ever tried to play video games online can tell you, the internet is filled with creepy, adolescent-minded adults. On the other hand, you’ve got people holding up Mad Men’s Don Draper as shining example of classic masculinity, and if you’re idolizing Don Draper for being “a real man,” you’re doing life wrong.

Are we even watching the same show?

Still, I think even the most mature person in the world would agree that arrested development can be pretty funny in small doses. This was never clearer than when Bowling For Soup, class clowns of the pop-punk world, hit the charts with “1985.”

Bowling For Soup had a minor hit two years earlier with “The Girl All The Bad Guys Want,” but “1985” (originally performed by heroes of the Splashdown soundtrack, SR-17) is the song they’re best known for. It’s fitting, too;  “1985” tells the story of, a woman obsessed with the pop culture of her youth, and Bowling For Soup are nothing if not pop-culture obsessed. Their songs and their videos are typically a mixture of juvenile humor and obvious cultural references, with the occasional dash of heartbroken against. They are, essentially, a single teenage boy embodied as four adult men.

We found them amusing for a while, but like I said: small doses. The double-shot of humor and nostalgia in “1985” was enough for America, and Bowling For Soup hasn’t had another hit since.

But why? I mean, aside from that thing I said about juvenile humor only being good in small doses. That still stands. But are there other reasons?

Let’s get this out of the way first: most of Bowling For Soup’s albums run for nearly an hour, and that is much, much too long. There are few genres less suited to long running time than pop-punk, and this holds especially true for Bowling For Soup, a band who only knows a few tricks and refuses to learn any more.

Another problem is that the guys Bowling For Soup aren’t that funny. The first single from their follow-up album, The Great Burrito Extortion Case, peaked at 97 on the Billboard Hot 100, which is the pop music equivalent of a polite smile and nod. The song, “High School Never Ends,” certainly didn’t merit much more than that. Yeah, guys, a lot of celebrities can be slotted into stereotypical high school social groups. That’s… that’s a good one. Excuse me, I have to go… uh… do something else.

If “High School Never Ends” was working too hard to stretch a moderately clever observation into a hilarious song, then their next single, “When We Die,” swung way too far in the opposite direction. It was a completely joke-free song that was both saccharine and vague, a deadly combination in a pop song. If the guys behind the song “I’m Gay” want to make me cry, they’d better have a damn good reason.

Bowling For Soup’s best songs struck a balance between sad and funny, wrapping the pop-culture jokes and juvenile humor around some sort of emotional core. “Ohio (Come Back To Texas)” is a single from the same album that spawned “1985”and it holds the dubious honor of being the best Bowling For Soup song ever made. “Ohio” tells the story of a Texan whose girlfriend runs off to Ohio with another guy. The narrator tries to get her to return by appealing to her love of rodeo, Mrs. Baird’s fruit pies and decent Mexican food.

Even if they were never all that funny, at least Bowling For Soup never beat you over the head with their jokes. If a gag fell flat, it’s okay; it was just one line in the song. It’s not like they would pick one abysmally unfunny joke and build the entire song around that, beating the joke into the ground until you weren’t sure if you were even capable of laughter anymore.  Yeah, I’m glad that never happened.

Oh, wait, that did happen, and it was called Sorry For Partyin’.

This cover just screams ” 99 Cent Bin in the back of the FYE.”

You don’t even need to listen to this album to find it annoying. Song titles like “Hooray For Beer,” “I Can’t Stand L.A.” and “I Don’t Wish You Were Dead Anymore” give you a pretty good idea of the level of wit on display here. All you really need to know, though, is that this album contains a song called “My Wena,” and if you’re not sad right now, you haven’t gotten the joke yet. Try saying it with a Boston accent.

That’s the kind of humor that wouldn’t even fly on an elementary school playground. If a ten-year-old heard that song, he would wrinkle his nose, adjust his thick-framed glasses and sigh about the horrible state of music these days.

“I Gotchoo”, a hip-hop influenced song that segues into a rap-metal bridge, is somehow the least terrible song here. For most bands, making a song that borrowed lyrics from the “fuzzy wuzzy was a bear” rhyme would be the low point of their entire career, a moment that they could never live down no matter how many albums they made with Rick Rubin. For Bowling For Soup, it was an album highlight. Honestly, it was just nice to hear a song that didn’t take a single joke and beat it into the ground.

Mercifully, no singles were released from Sorry For Partyin’. The official story is that Jive Records dropped the band right when the album was released, but I believe that there was a greater force at work. A force… for good. I guess you could say that Sorry For Partyin’ restored my faith in a just and loving God. Thanks, Bowling For Soup!

Maybe that’s a little dramatic, but really, that album is terrible. However, while Bowling For Soup has still not returned to the charts, their most recent album, Fishin’ For Woos, shows that the band is capable of producing music that doesn’t inspire bewildered rage.

On Fishin’ For Woos, the band eschews the one-joke songs of their previous album in favor of producing catchy, lightly humorous pop-punk ditties. It looks like there might be hope after all! The boys have learned that they don’t have to make crass, innuendo-laden, “funny” songs in order to entertain people. And hey, even if they’re never going to be Fountains Of Wayne, at least they don’t have to be The Bloodhound Gang.

Remember these guys? No? Good for you!

In fact, the album’s last track, “Graduation Trip,” shows that the band can make a bittersweet song without relying on pop-culture references for the sweetness. The story of “Graduation Trip” is similar to “1985,” with a middle-aged narrator reflecting on a lost love from his youth. Where “1985” devolved into jokes about Ozzy Osbourne, “Graduation Trip” commits to telling the story of someone who can’t let go of the past. The results aren’t exactly mind-blowing, but when you’re dealing with the boys from Bowling For Soup, any steps toward maturity are impressive.

Actually, scratch that–the men from Bowling For Soup. The band members are all in their forties now, they deserve a little respect. And hey, if they want to keep making songs about friends, chicks and guitars, songs like… well, “Friends Chicks Guitars,” more power to them. Because being a man-child might be unattractive, but no one likes a person who takes himself too seriously, either.

Just… lay off the dick jokes, okay, guys?