Wheatus – The Valentine LP Review

Despite the name, The Valentine LP was actually released on August 2nd by Wheatus, The Valentine LP has been a while coming, two years and seven months in fact, Wheatus has released two EPs over the last five years in a series called Pop, Songs & Death, The Valentine LP is the first full length traditional LP style offering from Wheatus since 2005’s TooSoonMonsoon.

As a disclaimer for this article: I’ve written about Wheatus several times before in Previous Magazine, including an interview. I’ve been very close friends with Brendan B. Brown and the rest of the Wheatus crew for five and a half years, we don’t get to hang out as often as I’d like, hopefully we’ll get more chance with the upcoming Fall tour, but friendship aside, my journalistic integrity takes priority in these circumstances and I’m unbiased as with every article we publish.

It seems like only yesterday that I was standing outside of Sound Control in Manchester with Helen and Mark Redhead (The tour’s guitar tech) being shown some snippets of songs to come from The Valentine LP. Wheatus have come a long way since their debut in the charts with Teenage Dirtbag, I still remember watching a sunglasses-clad fellow geek sing out from underneath his hat, both of which obscured his face to the point of intrigue you couldn’t quite help but give into.

Something that has in my opinion been somewhere Wheatus could always improve was their drums, they had used a Roland V-Drum MIDI kit on tours and in the studio for as long as I can remember, but The Valentine LP sees the use of real drums, as always, Kevin Garcia does a phenomenal job of expressively playing, but years of honing his talent really shows now that he’s playing on a real kit. Whilst the drums aren’t thunderingly huge in sound and are actually quite minimalist drums as they go in the rock genre, it’ll be especially interesting to see how this affects the live performances. I’ll confess, I usually detest the use of hi-hats in almost all genres of music, there are very few people who get it right, but Kevin has restored my faith in drummers.

All of the song titles from The Valentine LP are the most interesting yet in the Wheatus discography, you may think you can imagine what some of them will be like before you hear them, then when you do then you’re proven very wrong. This is also the most positive and reassuring record that Wheatus has ever released. Lyrically, The Valentine LP features more talk of planes and the weather as BBB is rather partial to doing, there’s a lot to say about this record, these were my thoughts upon my first two listens, with that said, onwards we go.

The Fall In Love

Mark Palmer’s keys open this song about seemingly about unreciprocated love, but Brendan commented that this song is about coming out during high school, something that should come as no surprise for those of you who have seen Brendan’s NOH8 Campaign photograph promoting gender, marriage and human equality. Brendan’s frantic style of storytelling begins and there’s the trademark quirky verbal Wheatus wit, there’s a particularly nice line of “I’m not crazy — anymore.”, the unexpected addition makes this song very lyrically appealing amidst the cutesy talk of animals and weather, a seemingly cheesy and unusual track lyrically, though I really enjoy how smart the title of the track and the use of the line in the song are.

Matthew Milligan’s bass happily pokes through the mix and there’s an especially nice section full of hi-hats and ride that really keeps the track alive and building.

Fourteen

There’s a vibe of The White Stripes to be found in this track, again, the drums are great and add so much more character to the tracks. The guitar on this track is very simple, but with that said, this is probably one of my favourite tones in the rock genre, it just seems to compliment the vocals especially well.

Lyrically, Fourteen features reassuring lyrics that punctuate The Valentine LP as a whole. Whilst trying to figure out the meaning of Fourteen, I came to four possibilities; this is either a reference to an event earlier in Brendan’s life or something involving social media like Twitter with cyberbullying, or the song is fabricated fantasy like Teenage Dirtbag or it is actually about something entirely different, regardless, this is a great track.

Helen theorised that this song is about Justin Bieber and his unpleasantness towards those around him in recent months along with how the Beliebers were self-harming after he was photographed smoking marijuana and posting photographs of their self-mutilation on Twitter as an attempt to guilt-trip him into stopping, I definitely agree after hearing the line about scars, in fact Josephine actually sounds a little like ‘Justin B.’ upon first listen if you aren’t aware of the track name. Disclaimer: Helen is not a Belieber and neither of us know for fact what this song is actually about, though I do think this is a very interesting interpretation.

Holiday

Brendan’s songwriting and wit really shine in this track, a very simple track compared to some of the others on The Valentine LP, but this is definitely a throwback to the original self-titled album. The twist in this tale of perfect love is unexpected and made me chuckle when I first heard it, I just hope this song isn’t based on an actual experience!

Instrumentally, the ending is very reminiscent of Hump’em N’ Dump’em, definitely invoking a feeling of nostalgia for the original self-titled album. I would really love to see Wheatus make more music like this, it is tracks like these that people remembered them for on their upbeat punk-influenced pop-rock of their self-titled debut album.

Break It Don’t Buy It

More brilliant storytelling through Brendan’s signature style of songwriting, it is worth noting that the vocal harmonies between Brendan and the backing vocalists on Break It Don’t Buy It are phenomenally well done, this works especially well with the thick guitar. This is a song seemingly about having a love that wasn’t reciprocated during Brendan’s school years questioning why someone has to play with the hearts of others in circumstances in which they initiate the beginnings of a romance yet have no intentions of ever taking it further than that, probably something that a lot of people can relate to. Jack Hsu from prof-rock band The Hsu-nami plays the ehru especially well in Break It Don’t Buy It, another underappreciated instrument I’m very fond of.

Valentine

Briefly pounding chords open Valentine as if The White Stripes entered the room and left just as quickly as they arrived complete with the amped up distorted opening vocals that switch to being clean and big vocals. If there was a song to open a movie panning across New York City, this would be it.

This is one of the more uplifting tracks from Wheatus in a while with more heartening lyrics, it actually reminds me of Fresh Feeling by Eels, especially the keys and drums throughout it, I know that BBB is a fan of Eels so it wouldn’t surprise me if Souljacker had an influence on him. The vocals are stacked up plentifully, one of the particularly sonically pleasing moments of Valentine is where the layers of the stacked vocals have a slight delay between them coming in allowing it to build satisfyingly into a wonderfully executed harmony.

Brendan continues to wear his heart on his sleeve as he always has done with his views of antitheism with “If some god ever finds me here, I’ll believe only in you, my dear”. Vivid mental imagery ensues from the lyrics, these unusual lyrics with a hidden meaning, seemingly about starting a family, especially with the line about wondering if it is too late and planting flowers.

As with the previous two records from Wheatus, The Valentine LP has a comic book featuring an interpretation of the lyrics (Whether this interpretation is that of the artist or Brendan is unknown to me), this one in particular is for Valentine and is again by Ecol, whilst the comic book definitely shines a light on what the lyrics are about, the artwork isn’t nearly as elegant and refined as the previous two comic books and is in a much lesser league than the album artwork by Andrew Bell along with the artwork of the slightly gory monster collecting skulls on the Wheatus website promoting the album, both of which are really quite striking and memorable. A zombie apocalypse, shotguns, molotov cocktails and a brief tale of survival is very cliche and uninspired compared to the original ideas of the Wicked inspired missing-persons comic book of The Lightning EP or the The Jupiter EP’s very original tale of a dreamed Soviet dogfight after being hit on the head by a telescope in a planetarium that was running low on funds, even the plane’s on-board computer called Sparks sticks in my mind such a long time after I first read the comic book, there’s so much in the Bridges to Jupiter comic book. That’s not to say that the comic book included with The Valentine LP is bad by any means, it just isn’t something I’ll be keeping on my iPad with the first two comic books, it is short and just not very memorable, you definitely feel as if you’ve seen this story elsewhere in the last five years of the zombie craze taking off with shows like The Walking Dead, the resurgence in all things zombie related has been done to death and now it is time for something new and original, that applies to all industries especially the horror movie genre and video games. What we do have to keep in mind is that the music is the main reason someone purchases an album, the comic book is merely an added bonus and incentive to purchase.

Mary Mary Sea Serpent

Mary Mary Sea Serpent’s lyrics are seemingly about Brendan’s grandmother during WWII as a kind of reassurance to the person she was at the time, that’s the lady featured as an etching on the cover of Hand Over Your Loved Ones in case you didn’t know, Brendan’s grandmother was struggling with Alzheimer’s during the recording of that record and there’s a part of me that thinks maybe this song had been floating around during the recording of Hand Over Your Loved Ones as a way to remind her of who she was. My good friend Corn Mo of .357 Lover lends his accordion playing skills to Mary Mary Sea Serpent, the acoustic guitar gives this track an almost folk-rock vibe, this track is very atmospheric, it features a swelling bass similar to that of Bridges to Jupiter from Pop, Songs & Death, Vol. 2: The Jupiter EP, very fitting as this is another song from Wheatus heavily mentioning WWII planes, the drums also have a very similar feel to Bridges to Jupiter.

This is probably my favourite track on The Valentine LP from a songwriting point of view, it is such a soulful and sincere song about appreciating an ancestor and expressing love for them, this is probably the most sweet Wheatus song there is. The vocal interaction between Brendan and the backing vocalists is very noteworthy.

Marigold Girl

As someone who has spent the first twenty years of their life living a stone’s throw from Liverpool on the Wirral peninsula, it immediately jumps out at you when someone has been inspired by The Beatles. Marigold Girl has a sonically retro vibe to it, most likely because older equipment was used to record this particular track. Like with Valentine, this song mentions people possibly being gods, this leads me to believe that these two songs are connected to the same events along with the marigold flowers featuring in the comic book.

Lady Adelaide

You’ve never heard any Wheatus song quite like this before, this has the energy of a track by some friends of myself and Wheatus who go by the name of Late Cambrian and Math The Band, there’s a heavily distorted and discordant verse with a very clean vocal interwoven between real drums, something that’s been sorely missing from Wheatus records in recent years, then comes the punchy chaotic chorus. The song has a sudden end of instruments with plenty of laughing and cursing about the style of the track being so fast it is like “oh fuck me! The monster’s coming, it’s going to eat us!”, something you would expect from the next Late Cambrian record with their love of throwing in something that wouldn’t be on a major label record, this rambunctious creative choice is part of the appeal of indie music.

That’s True

That’s True ventures into uncharted territory for most music artists, but Wheatus are venturing into an era of further musical experimentation I would really like to see more of. This had better be in the setlist of the upcoming tour, no dreading and avoidance of it like with Texas!

Promising, primal, poignant and very evocative percussion opens this lyrical stroke of genius that doesn’t fail to disappoint, dealing with love and existentialism as Brendan’s intellectual lyrics and storytelling tone of voice take you to the origins of the universe itself. That’s True can only be described as existentialist rock, probably some sub-genre of the nerd-rock movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s meets prog-rock, this shameless display of geeky enthusiasm is something that the hit single Teenage Dirtbag was infamous for. Let’s be honest, how couldn’t someone with a brain love a song about probability waves and the other facets of quantum mechanics? That’s True really is the highlight of The Valentine LP for me.

The tribal primordial drums are probably what I would call the soundtrack to creation itself, acoustic guitar adds a really pleasant natural honesty to it, very appropriate for a song like this. There’s a nice moment where Brendan’s vocals are away from the microphone temporarily and you get a nice room sound on the vocal that quickly segues back to full normality, but it is organic little imperfections like that this that really add attitude and distinct moments of genuine intrigue to this record. The backing vocals from Karlie Bruce and Gabrielle Sterbenz are at their finest in That’s True, this is likely to become the benchmark by which all future records from Wheatus will be measured by for me.

The overdubbed vocals in the bridge of the song combining Brendan’s semi-melodic vocals and several spoken lines are a tell-tale sign that someone other than me has been indulging in few too many science documentaries, this is a voice that would be at home in a science documentary. The deep-thinking lyrics go from talking about severed heads in Afghanistan to talking about the multiverse, this soon becomes a track that gives me the chills with a feeling of knowing that someone else out there thinks the way that I do about the nature of the universe itself. How many other songs can you name that mention the possible holographic nature of the universe?

Love Is Too Expensive

For me this song seemingly conjures up images of what it might have been like to have been in the World Trade Centres during the 9/11 terrorist attacks with lines like “you were just about to be the one, but then it came through the wall, it was twenty feet tall, tried to kill us all” and “Hell of a sound and they blew it down”. The explosive vocals of BBB seemingly come out of nowhere on the chorus like something literally crashing through the wall and will take you by surprise the first time you hear it as Brendan channels his inner Angus Young of AC/DC, unsurprising when you know that AC/DC was the first band that Brendan truly followed.

The recurring lyrical theme of weather returns once again in this track with a mention of rain coming down, this makes me wonder if the rain and monsoon mentioned through several Wheatus songs are related to the same event.

“We were just about to have some fun, but the roof caved in because the wealthiest kings wanted better things.” is one of the most memorable lines in the entire Wheatus discography, again, something that I hope will make their newly found audience (From British boyband One Direction covering Teenage Dirtbag at their concerts) become more aware of global affairs.

Tons of absolutely killer solos merged into one, this must be where Late Cambrian’s seven solos they contributed went! But then the song confusingly ends suddenly, no pause, the waveform is still there at the end of the track with no decay or fade out, I confirmed this with Matthew and he told me that this was intentional, I’m guessing that the musical roof collapsed on the stereo stage or something along those lines.

The Verdict on Wheatus’ The Valentine LP

A superb mixdown clearly led to such a great master, Wheatus once again refrain from participating in the on-going Loudness Wars thanks to the work of Philip A Jimenez from Gordo Studios, something that always gets my approval. One of my criticisms of Pop, Songs & Death, Vol. 2: The Jupiter EP was just how Brendan’s vocals were rather low in the mix compared to those of the backing vocalists, this caused a little mud on The Jupiter EP where Brendan’s higher register vocals (Particularly the falsetto) would get lost or overpowered by the vocals of the backing vocalists, hearing Brendan’s voice return to the centerstage of this record is a very much welcomed choice, he’s still got it and singing lines both live and in the studio that are his greatest yet.

The Valentine LP is ten tracks long and not one of those tracks is wasted with substandard songwriting or lacklustre instrumentation, every one of these tracks is a gem that is worthy of filling up some of the already precious storage on your smartphone or tablet. The Wheatus discography spans quite a number of niche genres already and this only adds to that number, but this is hands down the absolute greatest record that Wheatus has ever released, if you’re a fan of the band or even if you’ve never heard of them and have a passing interest in rock, pop or the music industry as a whole then this is a record to indulge yourself with before the end of the Summer.

The Valentine LP is currently available to purchase for $10 via PayPal from the Wheatus website as MP3s or FLACs, there’s even a vinyl preorder, although rest assured smartphone-only users, you’ll be able to buy The Valentine LP from your favourite digital music retailer such as iTunes in the coming weeks. Tickets to the upcoming all ages Wheatus tour are also available now.