Something Fierce, Don’t Be So Cruel

Something Fierce, Don’t Be So Cruel

Something Fierce is out to change the world. Not in any kind of end-world-hunger kind of way, mind you, but still, that’s the feeling I get after listening to Don’t Be So Cruel, the trio’s latest full-length. I mean, sure, they’ve always been about making things better in general — they’ve never been a tear-it-down punk band so much as a what’s-gone-wrong punk band — but up to now it felt street-level, focused right here on the scene, the people, the relationships directly around them.

Right from the start of Don’t Be So Cruel, however, it’s immediately obvious that that’s not what’s going on. The title track opens with a warning-slash-admonition that serves to lay the groundwork for the rest, seemingly pointing a finger at the people out there in the world at large who live pretty much to ratchet up the hatred and divide. As singer/guitarist Steven Garcia warns, though, it can’t last: “It’s okay if you don’t wanna be nice / but all that hate is gonna find you.”

From there, the band rolls through a smart, sharp-edged manifesto of sorts, one that points a finger at the world around us without getting on a soapbox. That’s a damn good thing, mind you, because only a small, small handful of bands can really pull off the truly pointed political punk song, and far, far too many more try their well-meaning hand at it and fail miserably. Something Fierce takes that yearning for change and turns it, instead, into a wide-open call to arms for anybody and everybody to sit up and pay attention.

Gone (well, mostly) are the songs about The Kids and love gone bad, with all the vitriol that entails, replaced by lyrics that are more far-reaching, almost global in their scope. It’s like the band sat up and realized that all the day-to-day bullshit was just that and decided to focus on the world beyond the swampy Houston streets. Even the songs that do aim lower, like the poignant, thoughtful “Before You Raised The Gun,” are cautionary and melancholy, more world-weary than angry.

I have to admit, by the way, that on first listen, I was a little worried. In the past, one of the best things about the Something Fierce crew has been their ability to blaze their way through fiery, furious little songs, tracks like the classic “Teenage Ruins,” “Hey Houston,” or “Come For The Bastards,” but that kind of barnburning fury’s in short supply here. For Don’t Be So Cruel, the band’s turned down and taken a step back, and I was nervous that, well, it just wouldn’t work.

Thankfully, they pull it off. One reason is the sly, Clash-like intelligence lurking in those songs — the band’s had it all along, from Come For The Bastards through to now, but it’s been almost drowned in breakneck drums and amps-on-10 guitars on previous releases. By stepping back a bit, Something Fierce tightens down its overall sound considerably and demonstrates that, holy shit, they can really write some great, great, nearly beautiful songs. Seriously — listen to the revved-up Northern Soul of “When You Hurt” and tell me I’m wrong.

Musically, The Clash casts a huge shadow over the whole thing, from the “Clampdown”-esque “What We Need Now,” which in itself reads like another warning, this time that they last thing we really need are the talking heads that surround us every day (and which also has an intro riff that fools me into thinking I’m about to hear “Whole Wide World”), to “Before You Raised The Gun,” which makes me think of “Hateful” more than anything else, to “Afghani Sands,” which (duh) can’t help but evoke “Rock the Casbah.”

There’s a heavy Jam influence snaking throughout, as well, particularly on tracks like “Future Punks,” “Ghosts of Industry,” and closer “Empty Screens” — the latter, by the way, is a hands-down classic that demands flinging your fist in the air (right after you turn off the TV, that is). The band channels some of that earlier roar on the There Are No Answers reprise of “Aliens Two” and “Dying Young These Days,” tempering things enough that it all flows together with scarcely a bump.

Hell, there’s not a bad song on here; probably my least favorite is the straightforwardly punkish “Bad Choice,” but even then, that’s not bad, just not-as-good. Highlights for me have got to be the murky “Afghani Sands,” the bouncing, finger-snapping “When You Hurt,” the grooving “Ghosts of Industry” (especially the hopeful-sounding mid-song break), the thoughtful smackdown of “What We Need Now,” and the aforementioned “Empty Screens,” and those are all hard, hard calls.

Taken as a whole, Don’t Be So Cruel is a huge step forward for this band. With this album, they’ve simultaneously made the risky move to turn down and branch out musically and tried to look beyond the often-petty crap 99% of all punk bands out there write about. And it’s fucking awesome. And yes, possibly even world-changing, at least in some small way. Somewhere up there, Joe Strummer is kicking back with a wide, wide grin on his face.

[Something Fierce is playing its record release show 4/1/11 at Mango’s, along with The Hangouts, Wicked Poseur, & Fat Tony.]
(Dirtnap Records -- 2615 SE Clinton St., Portland, OR. 97202; http://www.dirtnaprecs.com/; Something Fierce -- http://www.somethingfiercemusic.com/; Something Fierce (Myspace) -- http://www.myspace.com/somethingfiercehouston)
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Review by . Review posted Friday, April 1st, 2011. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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7 Responses to “Something Fierce, Don’t Be So Cruel

  1. SPACE CITY ROCK » Something Fierce Record Release, Tonight at Mango’s on April 1st, 2011 at 2:28 am

    […] poppy punk this time out and more reined-in and Clash-like, at least to my ears. Look on over here for the full review, or check out three of my favorite tracks over on the band’s Bandcamp […]

  2. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. Weekend, Pt. 2: Something Fierce + Young Girls + Gold Sounds + Illegal Wiretaps + French Horn Rebellion (MP3!) + More on April 23rd, 2011 at 10:27 am

    […] 3PM, it’s the triumphant return of Something Fierce from their recent tour in support of Don’t Be So Cruel (which is incredible, btw). The band was also featured recently on the MAXIMUMROCKNROLL blog, to […]

  3. SPACE CITY ROCK » Summerfest 2011 Rundown, Pt. 3: Chromeo + Something Fierce + Young Girls + Fucked Up + Perseph One + Little Lo + More on June 19th, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    […] genre. They’ve held firm in that elite little group for a while now, and this year’s Don’t Be So Cruel seals the deal even tighter, shifting their sound towards a more straight-up homage to The Clash, […]

  4. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. Weekend, Pt. 1: Something Fierce (Reviewed!) + The Hold Steady + Joe Pug + Del Tha Funky Homosapien + More on June 23rd, 2011 at 12:09 am

    […] First and foremost in my mind, at least, is the previously-mentioned but still awesome-sounding Something Fierce record release show going on this evening up at Mango’s — I’ve had the chance to live with the band’s new album, Don’t Be So Cruel, for a couple of months now, and it just gets better & better every time I hear it. Fans of The Clash and/or The Jam, you need to hear this, seriously. Check out the full review over here. […]

  5. SPACE CITY ROCK » Something Fierce’s Punk Rock Pig Returns for “Future Punks” on October 6th, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    […] recommend pretty much anything the band’s ever done, up to and including this spring’s Don’t Be So Cruel, which has this song on it. Damn, I love this band. Post by Jeremy Hart. This entry was posted […]

  6. SPACE CITY ROCK » A Sweet Hot Hell: Surviving Summerfest 2011, Day One on January 23rd, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    […] early on, they made me think of folks like The Adverts and Stiff Little Fingers, but with new album Don’t Be So Cruel, the band’s wearing their Clash influence right there on their collective chest. I swear, the […]

  7. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. Weekend, Pt. 2: Main St. Block Party + Something Fierce + CounterCrawl + Indian Jewelry + More on January 28th, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    […] (on the hometown front, at least; I know they’ve been touring a lot). After 2011′s Don’t Be So Cruel, which wears its Joe Strummer-loving heart right on its sleeve, it should damn well only be a […]

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