As the first lyrics of each song on Take a Break are delivered, we know exactly what to sing to sing along. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, again, delve into familiar territory Ė for the band and for listeners alike Ė covering songs from varied genres and drying them off in a salad spinner of punk rock.
This time the band Ė a semi-supergroup made up of willing members of bands such as Fenix TX and NOFX Ė focuses on what it calls "soothing soulful sounds." Innocuous, blockbuster ballads such as Lionel Ritchieís "Hello" and Boyz II Menís "End of the Road" are given the pop-punk aesthetic that only Me First and the Gimme Gimmes can deliver, speeding things up and cranking them up, but keeping the harmonies intact, or even adding layers of harmony.
The cover art and liner notes are deceptive, as the band devotes much ink to explaining these songs come from a time of Kangol hats or break dancing, but itís off-mark. The band isnít covering songs such as "Rock Box" or "White Lines," but "Mona Lisa" (not the Slick Rick song) and "Nothing Compares 2 U," written by Prince and sung by Sinead OíConnor. As the liner notes go into great detail about the bandís history in soul, R&B, and hip hop culture/music, using much "urban" slang to do so, itís apparent the band is as white as ever, which is perhaps a joke even better played than the bandís instruments. This juxtaposition is clear looking over the catalog the band has sampled, which could be some of the "whitest" songs by black performers (if there is such a thing) such as Stevie Wonderís "Isnít she Lovely," Sealís "Crazy" and R. Kellyís monstrous "I Believe I Can Fly." Thereís nothing really funky or soulful about any of these songs in their original form, just the innocence, sincerity and emotion that ballads offer. And because these are songs we can all enjoy, itís an enjoyable album. The bandís harmonizing its clear high point, lending a barbershop quartet (more like quintet) feel. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes wield their expected instruments (guitar, bass, drums) with ease but so do they with ukulele and accordion, which refresh Take a Break.
Other hidden gems lay within Take a Break. Besides borrowing riffs and lyrics from the original to make a complete cover song, the band "samples" the Cars and others on Take a Break, incorporating recognizable melodies you wouldnít expect to find in a cover of Nat King Cole. So, weíve got great melodies, great songs and lastly, some great jokes. The tradition the band has created for itself, in that thereís a fine line between reverence and irreverence when covering the likes of the Jackson Five, is well trodden here. Thereís an obvious humor in five grown white men singing Aretha Franklinís "Natural Woman," - but itís a great song. Or when the band takes on Bill Withersí "Ainít No Sunshine" speeding up the song leads to a near-breathless 22 "I knows," sung in a row.
Despite the sadness behind lyrics such as "all we found was an empty place" on "Where do Broken Hearts Go" you canít help but smile listening to the song. Simply, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes have done it again.
Catherine Galioto is a Contributing Writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.