Thursday, May 29, 2014

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes - Are We Not Men? We Are Diva! (Album Review)

Just as your looking around for that perfect summer album, punk rock super group cover band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes are back with another genre-honoring release of amped-up singalongs and killer karaoke classics. Their seventh studio album Are We Not Men? We Are Diva! celebrates the big voices (and even bigger attitudes) of some of the music world’s biggest divas. Cher, Celine, Babs, Whitney – they’re all represented here in glorious punk rock revelry!

But first, if you’re not familiar with Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, here’s a quick refresher. The tongue-in-cheek super group is made up of Spike Slawson (Swingin’ Utters) on vocals, Fat Mike (NOFX) on bass, Chris Shiflett (Foo Fighters) on lead guitar, Joey Cape (Lagwagon) on rhythm guitar, and Dave Raun (Lagwagon) on drums. They released their first album Have A Ball in 1997 and it focused on songs from the 60s and 70s (plus an 80s Billy Joel number, but who’s counting). Since then, they’ve released albums covering showtunes, country, R&B, and more, as well as devoting a couple EPs to covering Australian and Japanese bands. Put on any of their releases and your immediately guaranteed to know a handful of songs, if not the whole album entirely.

While the foundational punk rock elements drive the fun nature of the album and give it its identifying heft, Are We Not Men? We Are Diva! shines brightest in its surprising moments. For example, they way they cycle through a couple different changes before landing on the disco-punk feel of Gloria’s Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” the folksy Celtic-stomp of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” the ukulele-sax mash-up of Madonna’s “Crazy for You,” and the warbly, underwater guitar lines on Barbara Streisand’s “The Way We Were.” Moments like these provide a super cool contrast alongside the pedal-to-the-floor tempos and top-of-your-lungs vocals.
As is common with a covers album, your individual enjoyment of Are We Not Men? We Are Diva! will probably depend on which original versions you connect with most. As an 80s skater-rink kid, their breakneck takes on Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” and Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon” rank pretty high for me. However, ask me on the right day and I might say that their tried-and-true runthrough of The Carpenters’ “Top of the World” might actually be my overall favorite. But hey, if Lady Gaga, Donna Summer, or Christina Aguilera are more your taste, they’ve got you covered there as well.

The final note on this great band is the continued game of finding the little punk rock easter eggs they throw into some of the songs on their albums. To me, the most obvious ones here are when they use the intro of 1977 punk rock classic “Sonic Reducer” by Dead Boys on Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” and when they use The Buzzcocks’ “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” on “Karma Chameleon.” I’m sure there are a few more I missing though, so feel free to leave one in the comments. It’s just another layer of musical shenanigans and goofball fun on an album that’s already spilling over with both.

1. “I Will Survive” (originally by Gloria Gaynor)
2. “Straight Up” (originally by Paula Abdul)
3. “Believe” (originally by Cher)
4. “Beautiful” (originally by Christina Aguilera)
5. “My Heart Will Go On” (originally by Celine Dion)
6. “I Will Always Love You” (originally by Dolly Parton, covered by Whitney Houston)
7. “Top of the World” (originally by The Carpenters)
8. “Speechless” (originally by Lady Gaga)
9. “Karma Chameleon” (originally by Culture Club)
10. “Crazy for You” (originally by Madonna)
11. “On the Radio” (originally by Donna Summer)
12. “The Way We Were” (originally by Barbara Streisand)

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