Well, let me tell you about me and Five Iron Frenzy. Nah, I'll save that for last. Let me review their "final" studio album, The End Is Near, first. The End Is Near is, sadly, an album in need of an identity.
Five Iron Frenzy achieved musical perfection on their previous album, Five Iron Frenzy 2: Electric Boogaloo, packing their songs with pain and joy and awe, while discovering how to employ their humor without destroying the flow of an album. They also found time to work in protests against various things they stood against, but these songs were personal and kept consistency with the rest of the album, These songs did this by continuing the developing band ideal of the weak versus the strong with Christ as the weak's champion. The best possible album to follow Electric Boogaloo would have furthered those themes, and indeed, The End Is Near's best songs do.
"Cannonball" isn't Five Iron's strongest opener, but its triumphant tone is welcomed. "At Least I'm Not Like All Those Other Old Guys" and "Wizard Needs Food, Badly" show that the band could have mined humor out of the foibles of aging for a very long time. "New Years Eve" pushes the emotions of Electric Boogaloo to a new level.
"It's New Years Eve and I feel my insecurities, are haunting me like ghosts, this sinking quicksand. And then with thunderous praise and lofty adoration, a second passes by, yet nothing changes. I hate my skin, this grave I'm standing in. Another change of years, and I wish I wasn't here." The song deals with extremely difficult and very real emotions, yet still believably ends on a hopeful note. This is Five Iron Frenzy at its best. "It Was Beautiful" is a thankful celebration of the joys of being in Five Iron Frenzy. This is just what you want to hear from a band you enjoy, as they ride into the sunset. "Something Like Laughter" is a fitting ending to Five Iron's female protagonist songs like "One Girl Army" and "A New Hope." The first 3/4 of closer "On Distant Shores" is appropriately epic. With all these positives, this could really be a great album, but there are some black marks that make it merely pretty good.
The first is something I'm sure the French have a word for. Let's just call it over-humility. "So Far, So Bad," "See the Flames Begin to Crawl," and "That's How the Story Ends" all argue Five Iron Frenzy's existence as meaningless. On an Ecclesiastical level, this is true. But I paid for this album. Don't make me feel stupid for liking you. When Reese sings "Ten years from now, you won't know my name," he is short-changing his fans' tastes, let alone their memories.
Another problem I have with The End is Near are the protest songs. "American Kryptonite" makes some good points, but its screamed "Buy, take, break, throw it away!" bridge sounds like something a college freshman would write after reading "Das Kapital" for the first time. "Anchors Away" is equally over-dramatic. These songs see the band moving from "the weak will be made strong" to a less sophisticated and equally less enjoyable "you all suck." As this album was supposed to be Five Iron Frenzy's last statement, it would have been nice for them to go out on a less cynical, angry note.
Speaking of going out, "On Distant Shores" builds up as a great finish to the album before suddenly shifting into the band's 1997 song "Every New Day." I get that the writing of "Every New Day" was a huge emotional moment for the band, so much so that they ended every single show with it afterward. But The End Is Near is already an album in search of an identity, and ending it with an old song robs it of a unique personality even more so.
So while The End is Near's pros do outweigh its cons, Five Iron Frenzy's first break up album is a low point in the band's career. I'm excited that we'll soon be getting a new album, and I hope this one showcases a band energized and happy to be making music again.
***And now a story about me and Five Iron. Five Iron and me, if you grammaticists will. I hope "grammaticist" is a real word because spellcheck doesn't recognize it. It also doesn't recognize "spellcheck."
The first time I saw Five Iron Frenzy live was Cornerstone, 2002. What a great Cornerstone. It's the only one I've been to, so I don't have any other point of reference, but man was it great. Five Iron put on an extremely enjoyable show. Reese wore a "Fat Elvis" costume with the butt as the crotch. I took a picture.
I met Reese at Five Iron Frenzy's merch booth, while I was buying an awesome t-shirt I still have. Reese was funny and kind. He always made it a point not to sign autographs, but was very polite in his explanation to those he denied, never making the fan feel stupid. The merch guy had an awesome old school SEGA hat, and a buddy of mine bought it from him for $5. Half the time you'd spend at Cornerstone was occupied by randomly running into people whose music you enjoyed. It could get awkward after a while. Speaking of, I randomly ran into Jeff the girl and took a picture with her, and the Rabbit awesomely photo-bombed it.
This was taken with one of those awesome early 00's disposable camera's that came with a "landscape" option. Back when things were cool and stuff.
The next spring, Five Iron Frenzy announced that they were breaking up. They planned one final fall tour, titled "Winners Never Quit" with Bleach and Holland as support. David Loti and I ventured to Houston with a much younger friend of mine, Shawn. Shawn you made the Nicsperiment, and I am about to make you look good.
Five Iron's show was pretty fun, but maybe not as much fun as the one from the year before. This was mainly because Reese only chose to wear Elvis' little known "outback safari" hat, instead of one of his more well-known wardrobe innovations.
The three of us were staying at Dave's sister's house that night, so we weren't in any rush to leave. Not that we didn't want to hang with Dave's sister, but we didn't have any pressing issues to attend to. After the show, I ran into Five Iron's trombonist/backup-vocalist, Dennis Culp. I asked him about the future of Five Iron's side-band, Brave Saint Saturn. Dennis, you need to give me like $5 or something because you were mean to me. After Dennis told me that Brave Saint Saturn was probably never going to tour, I said, "That's fine. As long as you guys keep making music, I'll be okay." What I was saying was, "I don't care if you tour. I live in a swamp and no one comes to play shows there anyway. If you keep recording albums, though, I'll probably buy them." For some reason, maybe because I look far younger than my age, maybe because Dennis was burnt out on life, or maybe who knows, Dennis took my comment as, "My life completely depends on your music. I need it more than food, water, and sleep. If you do not release more music, I will kill myself, maybe now."
"You know what?" Dennis answered. "Find another band to listen to. We suck. You need to move on and find some other bands to listen to." My brain froze over in sudden rage. What I wanted to say was, "I'm a DJ, dude. All I do is listen to other bands. I'm in my 20's and well-adjusted, and I am about to kick you square in the nuts." Unfortunately, the moat of Five Iron Frenzy scene kids standing around Dennis immediately chimed in with, "Yeah, Brave Saint Saturn is terrible. Listen to -X- band instead." They didn't really say "-X- band," though. These kids just started spurting out a bunch of names of bands that middle and high school-ers liked at the time, and suddenly, their numbers seemed to grow and swell until I couldn't even see Dennis anymore to retort, and then I was walking out of the auditorium dejectedly.
I found Dave in the lobby, having a pleasant and animated conversation with the members of Bleach. We had talked spoken their guitarist, Sam, for quite a while before the show, and found we had a lot in common with the him. I joined Dave's current conversation, and it was going great until Dave from Bleach asked Dave from David Loti if Dave from David Loti liked coffee. The obvious implication was, "Dude, you guys are cool. They're about to shut this place down. Do y'all want to go talk someplace else?" David Loti's response: "I don't like coffee."
I was too shell-shocked from my previous encounter to offer conversational assistance in such an extreme situation. Dave from Bleach made a disappointed face and the band told us to have a good night. I immediately explained to Dave what other Dave meant. I bring this story up in every single conversation Dave and I have to this day. Both of us sat dispiritedly on the two-hour ride home to his sister's apartment five miles away. Two hours because of a chemical spill. Awesome. Meanwhile, Shawn smiled happily from the backseat because Shawn got both these girls' phone-numbers after a night of sweaty dancing.
2003 Self-Released/Five Minute Walk
1. Cannonball 3:44
2. At Least I'm Not Like All Those Other Old Guys 2:09
3. So Far, So Bad 3:03
4. New Years Eve 3:53
5. American Kryptonite 3:15
6. It Was Beautiful 2:47
7. Wizard Needs Food, Badly 3:12
8. Farewell To Arms 4:03
9. See The Flames Begin To Crawl 3:16
10. Anchors Away 3:32
11. Something Like Laughter 3:13
12. That's How The Story Ends 3:38
13. On Distant Shores 10:15
14. Hidden Track 6:31