The common axiom when you walk into your first Hollywood meeting centered around your work is this—kick ass, because if you don’t, you’re never coming back. As Isaac Brock wrote, “we have one chance to make everything right.”
Well, Brand New missed their shot.
For a good number of attuned gen-Facebook music listeners, this notion seems ridiculous. Brand New were voted the second most popular band on all of AP.net, a teenage tastemaker. To suggest that they missed their chance at the big-time is blasphemy. But they did. Or rather, they realized too late that setting your high school diary entries up as lyrics to stock Long-Island pop-punk was a quick way to get your record, and your name, in the back of the racks.
Brand New’s debut, 2001’s Your Favorite Weapon, is exactly the record a band coming out of a maligned scene (Long-Island-Post-Hardcore) didn’t want to make: simple, meandering and containing only about 65 percent good ideas.
Brand New made a record that wanted to pretend that The Blue Album and Through Being Cool never existed. But on the way to making such a fall out of the gate, Brand New and their hearthrob-on-sleeve frontman Jesse Lacey offer up as good a lesson as to why LiveJournal entry-level writing can bite you in the ass as Mark Zuckerberg ever could.
In that respect, the best part about Your Favorite Weapon is that it hits you with a two-by-four of high school melodrama right from the get-go. As opening lyrics, Brand New chose “it’s funny how your worst enemies always seem to turn out to be all of your best chances for best friends.” Even in a scene that produced such clunkers as “So sick so sick of being tired/ and oh so tired of being sick,” the first lyrics of “The Shower Scene” read like teary-eyed miserabilia. The pen scrawls don’t get much better from there—“Logan to Government Center” pounds home the lyric “this isn’t high school,” when all lyrics elsewhere indicate otherwise, “Sudden Death In Carolina” has a chorus about being a chalk outline murder victim, and “Failure By Design” is about not being able to write a song. Brand New’s immediate contemporaries Taking Back Sunday, Thursday and Thrice all penned the same navel-gazing gobbledygook, but each had a gimmick—TBS’s dual-vocal interplay, Thursday’s knack for careening headlong into a breakdown even they didn’t think they could pull off, and the sense that Thrice always thought they were an arena-rock band. Brand New, as awful as it sounds, just sounded normal.
Your Favorite Weapon is remembered for five songs. Dyed in the wool fans remember “No Seatbelt Song” and “Mix Tape” because they subtly hinted at Brand New’s ability to build upon better sonics than they exhibited on such limp-dicked fare as “Secondary.” Wannabe scholars remember “70×7” and the TBS v. BN feud. But the two songs that matter most were always “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad” and “Soco Amaretto Lime,” because they, above all else, showed Brand New for who they really were—mediocre to decent songwriters who really didn’t want people hounding them about their music.
“Jude Law” is the best song of Weapon because it’s the one that attains the visceral energy of Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends cuts.
Its specificity actually helps it, and Lacey’s overly dramatic second verse doesn’t sound as cloying when put before that kickass chorus. It builds to its cacophonous cymbal-rushed outro with rage instead of pubescent moaning. And “Soco” is unique. Brand New might have been a group of mediocre guitar players and lyricists, but more than anything, “Soco” showed that they can still manage to capture that adolescent feeling of invincibility that so many Long Island hardcore bands ignored in their lyrics. Because, in reality, it takes balls to release such a “C+” effort as Your Favorite Weapon, or play shows to 25 kids, hoping that somebody is watching. “Soco Amaretto Lime” closes Your Favorite Weapon, reminding the listener that Brand New have the guts to get a little cocky.
But those two songs are notable for another reason—Brand New stopped playing them. For a good four years after the release of their name-saving sophomore effort Deja Entendu, Lacey and company consciously refused to play their two most popular songs. Why? In all likelihood, Lacey recognized the juvenile voice that ruined Brand New’s chance to be Thrice or Taking Back Sunday or even Thursday. They got left behind because they made a bad first step, and every song they’ve ever made since has been a response to that. Brand New resigned themselves to anonymity before they even got the chance to follow-up.