If there’s any consistency to Mean Jeans’ scouting report, it’s that On Mars, their trending Dirtnap-released 2012 LP, is gleefully addictive. Such platitudes aren’t rare for buzzy albums, of course, but fun is hardly a quality associated with critic-approved modern punk: Fucked Up are lauded for their literary vision. The Men get daps for their scholarly attention to bygone American indie rock. Iceage are praised for their near-gothic atmospheric qualities. Indeed, 35 years after the Ramones penned “Teenage Lobotomy,” it’s no longer fashionable for punk to be stupid.
That’s why On Mars — and the critical adulation it’s received — is downright refreshing. Because beyond being addictive, the Portland trio has reintroduced the holy union of fun and stupidity: See, for example, the Jägermeister-soaked video for their power-pop anthem “Anybody Out There,” which has the band touring outer space, taking galactic bong hits and befriending aliens over Jägerbombs. Its’ all set to the gleeful soundtrack of their sun-kissed mélange of ’77 punk, power pop and garage-y new wave.
So, we ask guitarist Christian Blunda, a.k.a. Billy Jeans: Did Mean Jeans ever see any sponsorship money from Jägermeister, given their love of the brown stuff? “No, but apparently it’s not that difficult to be a Jäger [sponsored] band,” he says. “Whatever, we just believe in Jägerbombs. We get shit from bartenders and other assholes at bars all the time, saying we’re frat boys for drinking them or that Jäger’s jock juice. But by the end of the night, those same haters want to drop bombs with us.
“Other booze, when drank in mass quantity, sometimes makes you angry or sad. Jäger just makes you rage invariably.”
And raging is invariably central to Mean Jeans’ existence. So much so, in fact, that Blunda barely even talks about his music: He recalls his band’s NXNE date, for example, as an artery-destroying flurry of jello shots, cheeseburger cupcakes and cosmic brownies. When asked about his Calgary plans, he openly inquires about where to go tubing on the Bow River. He follows it up by sending me a link to Toobin’, an ’80s Atari game about tubing and drinking beer, proclaiming that “you haven’t lived until you’ve played it.” And when I forward him a link to Tubby Dog, Blunda’s downright smitten. (“Whoaaa,” he exclaims, when he witnesses a photo of the MCA memorial pizza dog. “These guys don’t fuck around!”)
But that love of fast food — especially Applebee’s, where “you can get $4 Jägerbombs after 9 p.m.” — is coupled with an evident love for fast music. And at that, On Mars is equal parts teenage and lobotomy. Pairing sizzling, Guitar Romantic-esque guitar leads with the din of glockenspiels, saxophones and percussion provided by uncooked, in-the-box Kraft Dinner, it’s not only the summer’s silliest album, it’s also one of the year’s finest albums, period — even if it can’t shake its comparisons to the Ramones.
“They’re an influence, no doubt,” adds Blunda. “We don’t want to play music that isn’t dumb, fun and catchy — like the Ramones. But there’s also tons of other bands ripping the Ramones left right and centre, and they don’t get the Ramones-core rep like we do.”
But, Blunda cautions, Mean Jeans aren’t simply hero worship. “Well, it’s not fun to write songs you’re supposed to write [as a punk band]. So, for our album, we decided to take shit straight to Mars and mix it up. We’ve used beer gargling, slide whistles and a hub cap [as instruments]. Sometimes to cover up for a lack of musicianship, sometimes because that’s just Mean Jeans.”
Throw in inner-tube romance tracks (“Come Toobin’,” which borrows its chorus from “Come Dancing”), bro-love epics (“Hanging Tough,” which thankfully doesn’t borrow anything from NKOTB) and weirdo space explorations (“Life on Mars”) and Mean Jeans have produced an intergalactic party LP that’d make Municipal Waste swoon. But don’t call it a novelty. If there’s a single thing Mean Jeans take seriously, it’s partying.
“I can say with full confidence that the Jeans are out of control, off the charts,” says Blunda. “We don’t take nights off. We don’t play unless we’re in the fucking zone. And we always play. Try to keep up.”