L.A. punks have more subtlety in their songwriting than meets the eye
Los Angeles punks FIDLAR kick off their debut album with “Cheap Beer,” an out-of-control drunk driver of a song, all agitated shouts and irresponsible tempo. It’s about cheap beer. You know this because the chorus goes “I drink/ cheap beer/ so what/ fuck you.” Clearly, you should not look to a band whose name is an acronym for Fuck It Dog Life’s A Risk for subtlety. But even though they seem built for cheap thrills, there’s actually more subtlety in their songwriting than meets the eye.
The members of FIDLAR have all spent time working in recording studios and they bring that expertise to bear here, hitting a happy medium between the feral rush of gnarled garage rockers like The Black Lips and the hooks-first polish of early Green Day. A mid-tempo song is as anathema to them as import lager, but there are enough moments of pop craft here to make these songs appealing to someone other than self-styled punk lifers. “5 to 9″ takes Dick Dale’s guitar tone and Beach Boys harmonies on an all day bender and “Gimmie Something” drops in some insinuating, Peter Buck-style arpeggio guitars. If you slowed down “Max Can’t Surf” it would sound like a Buddy Holly ballad, albeit with lyrics about smoking too much damn weed.
All of this sophisticated craft is in service of delivering a worldview that feels like a 15-year-old’s idea of what a badass is. FIDLAR would you like you to believe that all they do is shoot guns, drink and score whatever there is to be scored. (Representative lyric: “I just wanna get really high/ smoke weed until I die”) They’re so earnest about being a bunch of messed-up hooligans that they end up coming off as adorable. Not since Paul Westerberg drank beer for breakfast has punk been menaced by such cuddly thugs.