Over the past two decades, Brendan Kelly has been one of the most active participants in the Chicago punk scene. Each one of Kelly’s acts is notable for one reason or another, but after spending over a decade as the bassist/vocalist for the Lawrence Arms, it seems only natural that when that band began to slow its pace that the man-of-a-thousand-bands would release a solo album.
I’d Rather Die Than Live Forever is the first album Kelly has released with his new band The Wandering Birds – group gained its name by consisting of a revolving cast of musicians, based both in Chicago and Denver. So how does it stack up to Kelly’s past work? Well, it doesn’t really. Where Kelly’s former works were always anchored within the punk realm, I’d Rather Die is his most varied stylistic work to date. Sure, it has its punk-tinge – the regrettably titled “American Vagina,” as well as “What’s a Boy to Do?” – but the album runs the gamut from straightforward rock, to acoustic ballads, to Nick Cave-inspired waltzes.
From the album’s onset, Kelly deals solely with dark, off-putting subject matter. “Suffer the Children, Come Unto Me” is an upbeat, hooky number about raping and killing children. If the lyrical content on the track is any indication, this father-of-two is exploring the most vile content of his career. This album isn’t rife with the beer-soaked sing-alongs found on the Lawrence Arms 2006 full-length Oh, Calcutta!. Instead, these are the songs that were taking place in the alley behind the bars that inspired those joyous numbers. Instead of going to punk-gone-folk route like so many of Kelly’s peers, he’s punk-gone-sadistic. In a sense, it’s a more palatable version of the Dwarves, or even a rock ‘n’ roll take on Odd Future.
The question still remains: how successful is Kelly when he strikes out on his own? The answer, sadly, is as varied as the album itself. A track like “East St. Louis” is a bare bones rocker that doesn’t feel all that far removed from something Craig Finn would write, and the slow burning “Covered in Flies” is perhaps the most subtle hook Kelly has ever integrated into a song. However, some tracks just fail to resonate as well. “A Man With the Passion of Tennessee Williams” is the most ambitious track of Kelly’s career, but the drum machine and spacey effects that base the track make it feel like a demo instead of a fully realized idea.
On the whole, I’d Rather Die is a successful leap for Kelly, as he puts all the material unfit for his other acts in one place. Kelly’s knack for songwriting proves he can adeptly navigate these various styles and only falter in small measure. It’s not the album that someone who swears by Ghost Stories would want, but it doesn’t need to be, I’d Rather Die Than Live Forever is successful on its own merits.
Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds – I’d Rather Die Than Live Forever tracklist:
- “Suffer the Children, Come Unto Me”
- “Doin’ Crimes”
- “A Man With the Passion of Tennessee Williams”
- “What’s a Boy to do?”
- “Ramblin’ Revisited”
- “The Dance of the Doomed”
- “American Vagina”
- “East St. Louis”
- “Your Mother”
- “Covered in Flies”
- “The Thud and the Echo”