Paperback Tragedy – 8!

It’s no secret that I have a heavy (albeit VERY respectful and VERY healthy) man-crush on Will West and the Paperback Tragedy (PbT) Crew. I proclaim it to be “respectful and healthy” because I have yet to cross the line of stalking band members on their off-days. Nor have asked them to sign my man-boobs at a show. Yet.

Some may think that this will make my review more bias or full of fluff than someone writing somewhere else. But to these readers I say, it was a review opportunity that made me fall in love with PbT, so why can’t a review be the catalyst to have them fall from my favor as well? What if I no longer view them as one of my favorite punk rock bands east of the Mississippi all because of this album?!
Spoiler-Alert – that doesn’t happen in this review. Paperback Tragedy’s latest record 8! (released July 14, 2023 via Allegedly Records) is yet another gem in the crown of this dysfunctional Punk Rock Royal Family. That said, I do have a few nitpicks because, after all, I’m an “unbiased journalist” and all that nonsensical, boot-lickin’, clout-clickin’ mumbo jumbo. And if I could be serious for a hot second, I think that constructive criticism is healthy.

I’ll get the nitpicks out of the way first because, frankly, there’s not a whole lot of them! The first and foremost thing that I noticed all the way back when the record came out and still notice to this day is the lack of sonic presence of bassist, Dave “Frogg” Fannon. If you’ve seen PbT live, you’ll know that Dave’s bass-driven low end and hilarious dry wit are key ingredients to what makes the band so enjoyable. While some of his tasteful bass lines are audible in bops like “Silently Screaming”, I crave so much more in the mix. In all fairness, I’ve yet to secure my physical copy of 8!. But I’ve listened to the record on almost all available digital platforms and feel like the mix could have definitely used a little more Frogg. It’s not Jason Newsted from …And Justice For All-levels of criminal inaudibility, but it’s noticeable.

That’s not to say that the overall sound and production value isn’t otherwise fantastic on 8!. I know a little about PbT’s production sensibilities from following along on their social media pages (listed below). From what I gather off their socials, Lead Singer/Guitarist Will West and Lead Guitarist/Singer C-Lunch carry the bulk of the recording and production. And they do it DAMN well. The sonics are crystal clear – especially the drums – which is an uncommon trait amongst their punk rock peers. I lovingly compared drummer, Clay Holland, to Smelly from NOFX in my last review of 2022’s Threeshe!. And I’m happy to say that the “Moose” not only carries that bright torch into our generation, but also lends groove and nuance to a band that delivers hints of NOFX to Weezer to Queen, My Chemical Romance, Tom Petty, and back around again.

This segues perfectly into my other nitpick: there’s no other way to enjoy anything about this record other than listening to the music and peeping the Breezy-inspired cover artwork. What I mean by this is that Paperback Tragedy is WAY too good to be just another band putting out just another record on streaming platforms. Our legions may be smaller than they were years’ past, but music lovers – particularly punks – love diving into the nitty gritty of what goes into making of our favorite records. 8! will undoubtedly end up on the top of most punk fans’ list of favs. That said, lyrics should be easily available for fans to pore over, especially if said fans haven’t had a chance to snag a physical copy of the album. Production Notes, writing credits, and blurbs about the inspiration behind the making of the record are all things for which music lovers yearn. It’s my hope that all of these details are one day available for PbT’s releases.

Speaking of the band’s entire catalog: how does 8! matchup with the likes of the aforementioned Threeshe! or even earlier records like Ba Bah Gooshe (2007) and Ba Bah Twooshe (2020)? The band’s level of songwriting and delivery is top-shelf as it is on every record. I challenge anyone to find a chink in the band’s armor when it comes to the quality of music that comes rushing from the fingers and feet of these four dudes.

What’s different about Paperback Tragedy’s latest release is the level of angst that permeates through all twelve tracks. Even the opening instrumental “Hoove Rich”, with its tongue-in-cheek Sandler/Little Nicky-esque intro, dips a signature PbT melodic guitar part into the dark waters of a minor key that serves almost as a brooding overture of what’s to come.

And if you like melody, Will West and C-Lunch prove once again why they are the undisputed kings of their scene with infectious vocal hooks and guitar-monies that will stick themselves into the recesses of your skull for days.

I had the privilege of seeing tunes like “Nothing at All” and “Mr. Brown” (in my opinion, the album’s best one-two punch) performed live on PbT’s home turf at The Depot in Bmore (that’s “Baltimore, Maryland” for all the lame-o’s not in the know). Standing shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of punks while old-school Extreme Championship Wrestling matches played on a projector behind the band, I knew immediately that the new album’s catchy hooks and infectious grooves were going to be hallmarks of my everyday life going forward.

“Some days are better when 

you feel nothing at all”

– Nothing At All

“Worrying makes me weak, I can’t get no sleep, every empty bottle brings me moments of relief, I cherish every pill prescription that helps me fake this life I’m living, anything to help the children smile.”

– Mr. Brown

Hallmarks for life. For better, for worse. But all of it welcome. I say “for worse” because, if I’m being honest, the motion of the music and brilliant lyrics on this record stir up tons of regressed emotion. I’m talking heavy doses of frustration, sadness, hopelessness, and anxiety. All stirred up the way any good therapy session would do to our middle-aged rusty cages we call our minds.

And like therapy, it may not always feel good to face these feelings. But it’s necessary. And it’s as welcome as sweet and savory moments like the dancing guitar melodies in “Miss Julie” or the Brian May-esque guitar solo in “1839” that feels like C-Lunch is making his guitar sing. By the way, the latter of the two tunes mentioned above? “1839” is a mesmerizing accomplishment that displays the dramatic range of this once-in-a-generation band.
Omg. Is… is Paperback Tragedy EMO now?! I think so. In fact. I KNOW SO. And if Emo is wrong, then god damn it I don’t want to be right!

As Chtulu as my witness, the emotions pour out of every track. Sandwiched between the playful ditties like “Hoove Rich” and “Jazz Hooves” are deep character studies of what it means to be an aged and scar-torn punk. Will West sings, “We’re all hurting, burning. We all bleed, we all die someday,” reminding us that we’re all on this of space rock hurtling through the cosmos together.

His words remind us that we all grew up in a generation plagued by opioid addiction, having lost far too many of our brothers and sisters along the way. We cope by lamenting over the persistence of the ticking of the clock. But we also cope with the best of all mechanisms; the music we love and cherish so much.
Keep listening, and you’ll find that Will also urges us to “Smile On” as we “try to forget there were even holes in (our) head” as we surround ourselves with this gift of music.
“Put headphones on and let the sound take you away.”

Vinny is a sometimes music blogger who has one decent promotional headshot that he uses for everything and way too little time to do all of the things he wants to do. He plays in both Jersey Calling and Midlife Covers, as well as runs Rabid Penguin Records. 

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