Friday, March 3, 2017

One Last Pick Thru the Bins Volume 16: Pegboy, Too Much of a Good Sound

One could break a land-speed record without noticing.
I would have killed to hear just one ballad. That’s not something I say often, but there it is.

Chicago’s Pegboy spun off of Chicago’s Naked Raygun and, as noted in some of the reviews posted on the band’s Wikipedia page, the connection ain’t subtle, even if some reviews are kinder ("The band has a knack for writing anthemic choruses in the tradition of guitarist John Haggerty's former band, Naked Raygun") than others ("This workmanlike band inherits the Chicago muscle 'n' melody tradition of Naked Raygun").

Then again, one could chalk up the tonal difference of those reviews (“workmanlike”? damn) to one of them having a better album to work with (that’s Strong Reaction versus Earwig, respectively). Unlike most of the past volumes of this project, I was able to make it through Pegboy’s entire body of work. Also unlike past volumes, there’s no feeling that I could go on all day. And the opening sentence of this volume hints at why.

Playing loud, fast and heavy can feel exhilarating, but, as with driving fast, the sensation of speed fades if you do it long enough. Listening to a great stomping rocker by itself – say, “Dangerace” from Pegboy’s last studio album, Cha-Cha Damore - feels like driving 50 through a residential neighborhood. By contrast, listening to all of Cha-Cha Damore feels like driving 70 on the freeway, and for hours, across, say, Eastern Montana. It’s not that “Dangerace” is some left-field stand-out track, either (though it’s probably the album’s most up tempo song); “Dog, Dog” features a kind of background guitar noodling that you don’t hear in a lot of Pegboy songs, while “In the Pantry of the Mountain King” (apart from having a great fucking name) features a guitar that has whiffs of surf sound and production.

Those additions – they’re more flourishes, really – don’t add enough to overcome the broad “sameness” of Pegboy’s music. Pegboy does the thing they do pretty well, basically, but that’s about all they do. That why my ears perked up a bit on hearing the opening 6-8 bars of “Over the Hills” (Earwig): thought I finally had a ballad, or even just a meaningful change of pace, but, alas, it turned into another Pegboy rocker - the same type of guitar/bass hooks, the same rough beat and time signature, and with the singer’s “classic punk” vocals (i.e., flat, shouted, aggressively eschewing melody) droning over it all. I briefly thought they’d revealed I got a lyric from the Cheap Trick classic, “Surrender,” wrong for years, but it turns out they altered the words a bit (and well, too; “old maids, dykes, and whores,” actually makes the following line, “mommy isn’t one of those,” etc., a little punchier). That’s one more silver lining rubbed out.

I don’t want to overdraw this point, because it’s not like (still on Earwig) you’ll mistake, say, “Gordo” for “Louisiana” – and that’s down to more than just the openings. Play those one after another and you’ll think I’m nuts. Fair enough, but fill in, say, “Line Up,” “Revolver” (a song I’ve always liked, and still do; it’s just slower than I remembered), and “Blister,” and I think you’ll feel like my argument follows that useful comment about history – it’s less that it repeats than it rhymes.

I keep listening to each band as I’m writing these things (there’s still another session that comes when I drop in the links), and the more I bounce around, the more the distinctions between Pegboy’s songs sharpen – and that’s even as I’m listening to “What To Do” (3-Chord Monte) and hearing those same damn guitar hooks. It goes back to that freeway analogy, I suppose; the scenery changes a little, sure, but how much different does one hill look next to another when you’re driving the same stretch of highway?

Without a stylistic evolution, or even a lot to dig into within any given single (3-Chord Monte and Fore) or album (Strong Reaction, Earwig and Cha-Cha Damore), there’s not much digging to do on Pegboy. The only question in that context is whether or not you like their sound. If you do, I guess there’s nothing to say except, “enjoy!”

To help with that, I’d call Strong Reaction their best work – that’s even as I’m unclear as to the precise mix of fresher inspiration (earlier work), better production (do the individual musical instruments/components really come through more distinctly), the way that one sounds more like Naked Raygun (a band I like better) than the rest, and nostalgia (this came out when, oh, damn near everything I listened to sounded roughly like this, so this is something like endorphins humping happy memories). To name my favorites, let’s go with “Strong Reaction,” (watch that if you wanna see them perform, if only for the camera) “Still Uneasy,” and “Locomotivelung” (maybe the absence of vocals helps freshen up that last choice? Also, selection of available videos was awful).

There’s one final possibility to explore: maybe I’m just too old for a certain kind of rock. Can’t deny that one, certainly…but I don’t think that’s it, either.

Apart from noting that “Through My Fingers” (3-Chord Monte) still holds a special place in my heart, I think I’ll leave it there. Look, there’s no rule that every band you listen to needs to take you to bliss. I still would have loved to hear Pegboy slip the surly bonds of their rock/punk beginnings (can’t bring myself to call them “punk rock”…why?); I’m just not sure they ever had the inkling. Or even capacity. That doesn’t have to mean anything, though. It’s the same with any band: just put them on, accept them for what they did, and decide if you like ‘em.

I know I’ll still dip back now and again.

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