Yesterday Rules

by Ted on February 9, 2004

Below is my review for Yesterday Rules, the new album by blogger and MTX frontman Doctor Frank. It’s really very good. (The album, not the review.)

When I was getting into punk rock, my pusher described the Mr. T Experience as part of the “holy trinity” of Ramones-influenced pop punk. (The other two bands, if I remember correctly, were the Queers and Screeching Weasel.) Their albums were a lot of fun, combining punk energy, catchy melodies, and vocal harmonies in infectious, irresistable packages.

Yesterday Rules isn’t a straight punk album, which is good news to some and bad news to others. It deserves to win them some new fans who wouldn’t be caught in a mosh pit. A better comparison would be back-in-the-day Elvis Costello. It’s not that it sounds like an Elvis Costello album; Costello sometimes seemed to take a left turn every few bars, whereas MTX is simpler and more direct. You can’t take the Ramones out of the boy.

What I mean is that the things that are good about Elvis Costello are also good about Yesterday Rules: they’ve got incredibly catchy songs, witty, insightful lyrics, and a lot of sonic diversity.

I’m not really sure why MTX hasn’t enjoyed more success. Doctor Frank is a gifted songwriter; he can construct a catchy song like a’ringin’ a bell. If I wanted to explain the concept of a musical pop hook to someone, I could do worse than put on an MTX album. The tunes on the album are instantly memorable, and the variety of styles is a blast. Between straightforward rawk on “Elizabeth or fight” to Austin Powers calypso on “Boyfriend Box” to crying-in-your-beer on “Jill”, punk fans will have plenty to enjoy, and non-punk fans will be able to listen to the whole thing without getting exhausted.

He really shines as a lyricist. The Elvis Costello comparison is especially apt here, as both write acidly clever, ironic lyrics. Both frequently focus on troubled relationships, without exactly wearing their hearts on their sleeve. I don’t think that the lyrics offer a window into the actual emotions of Dr. Frank in the manner of, say, Tori Amos. Just two samples:

from “Institutionalized Misogyny”, Yesterday Rules

now science tells us I’m hard-wired to, I’m required to
do it with you
’cause I’m a man, and you’re a woman
and that’s what those kind of people do

I stole that line from Woody Allen
isn’t it amusing?
I wish I could make you understand
what Woody Allen meant

“Now that You Are Gone” from …And The Women Who Love Them

There was something in the way you said
never to call me again
and now I know I should have read
between the lines back then

And there were secrets that you almost kept
that were quite sufficient to show
but it finally hit me when
you left my name off your suicide note

They aren’t the first band to offset acid lyrics with up-tempo, jangly music, but they do it well.

The weakest part of the package is Dr. Frank’s voice. It’s neither smooth and sweet, nor interestingly scarred, but somewhere in between. I might compare him to Liz Phair, or Stephen Malkmus from Pavement. It works, don’t get me wrong, especially on the traditional fast-and-loud songs. But the highlights of this album are two gorgeous softer songs, “London” and “Big Strange Beautiful Hammer”. I could imagine either one of them breaking through and becoming a hit. Unfortunately, I don’t think that it’ll happen until they’re covered by someone else.

In short, it’s a terrific album. There aren’t too many things that you can do with $9 that will bring you more joy than buying Yesterday Rules.

{ 1 comment }


Gary Farber 02.09.04 at 6:13 am

You neglected to mention that Dr. Frank is also, as a rule, one of the most thoughtful, interesting, and non-knee-jerk bloggers around. I try to never miss one of his posts.

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