Screwjack, formerly The Freedumb Fries, formerly The Freedom Fries, and even before that S.B.C., have been at the top of their game since their first EP, Dicktad, came out in 2001. While I can go back and listen to it now and see the solid songwriting for what it is on these early tracks, there is no denying that the members of Screwjack have came a long way in originality, production value, and overall sound since their humble beginnings so many years ago. With “Shock Value”, a brand of ska predominates over the vast majority of the CD; before anyone gets scared, this is the ska of Leftover Crack and Operation Ivy, not Mighty Mighty Bosstones and the Aquabats. This album is the culmination of different influences and sounds that have been present in Screwjack’s music since the earliest days; while a track like “Fucked Up For the Last Time” connects straight forward chunky guitar (a la The Ramones), the rockabilly feel of a band like X, and the mid-nineties alternative scene, other tracks come just as near
Brock and Shawn split the drumming duties fairly evenly throughout “Shock Value”, but one would really have to listen closely, as each drummer finds themselves at the peak of their form on this disc. Showing a desire to experiment, other instruments like the saxophone and keyboards make their triumphal assault on the disc. Jared’s bass lines are worthy of the utmost praise, especially in the tense “Waiting Room”-like feel of a track like “50.5% Alcohol Content”. This is what pop-punk, this is what ska-punk, this is what good music should strive to be, and while Screwjack may be on their last legs, this disc will go down along with some of the most memorable discs that I’ve had the chance to review.
What is a welcome chance from most of the innovative music that comes across my desk is the high quality of the average song on “Shock Value”. Sure, there is a large amount of track noise on “101 Proof”, and a hollow sound that plagues the track through its 3+ minute run time, but the warm tones of the saxophone, played by Kenny, go far in balancing the track out. “The Voice in My Head Says I’m Better Off Dead”, originally a Hitler’s Wet Dream song, has been expanded for this track, benefiting (but seeming a little disjointed) by the addition of a second set of lyrics by a non-band individual. If this is the last we will hear from this kids (all four of them are attacking college or a new town this year), I could not have possibly conceived a better way for them to go out – this is the equivalent to Ma$e leaving the rap game, or Minor Threat’s bow-down.
Top Track: Neato
Screw Jack – Shock Value / 2004 Self-Released / 8 Tracks / http://www.screwjack.150m.com / firstname.lastname@example.org / Reviewed 25 August 2005