The Vanilla Milkshakes are a punk rock trio hailing from Denver, CO. They have a compelling character for a frontman in vocalist David McGhee who is gay, autistic, an ex-junkie and formerly homeless, so he is not short of life experience. His partners in crime are Frank Registrato on drums and JanKarl Hayes on bass and together they produce a highly entertaining racket that sounds like the musical offspring of Bleach-era Nirvana (this album was mastered by Bleach producer Jack Endino) and, well, The Offspring.
Other quirky pop punk bands like Weezer, Blink 182, Fall Out Boy, Presidents Of The United States and Green Day also make their influence known, though they have a ‘rough round the edges’ quality that was more favoured in the grunge era. They have a famous fan in music journalist Everett True (he introduced Courtney Love to Kurt Cobain) who describes them as ‘like Nirvana if they had been a K Records band’, which sums them up nicely.
This album, the follow up the acclaimed (including by me) album How To Ruin Friendships and Influence Douche Bags. It consists of thirteen tracks and was recorded by Calvin Johnson of K Records and mixed by Pual Krogh. Opening song Amazing Misery encapsulates what this band do best. Launching straight into an instantly chorus of “I amaze myself with my misery…”, it leads to a verse of chugging low end guitars Lyrically, they walk along the line where despair and humour meet and so they often have a tragicomedy element, a dark but often very funny humour that Mark Oliver Everett of The Eels has also mined.
The second verse consists of a spoken word conversation between David and his doctor about getting medication for depression, which might not sound funny but it is. After this, the band enter an instrumental section with Frank Registrato throwing in some pretty nifty drum fills. You can see this song becoming one of their main anthems and a fan favourite.
Second Track The Block Song is just as catchy but in a different way – it comes across as a cross between the sing-song style refrain of Nirvana’s Sliver and the goofy punk charm of Sum 41 and Green Day. Like Kurt Cobain, David obviously had issues living up to his father’s expectations and again like Kurt, grew up not feeling masculine or macho enough. This is expressed in the raw lyrics: “Daddy had a little boy who could play his football, dunderhead couldn’t play, Daddy had a girl….”.
Deez Boots is another maddeningly addictive song, this one in more of a 60’s influenced style, in the way Weezer made popular. The backing harmonies are endearingly ramshackle yet are still very effective and lyrically, it is about one-upmanship and the stupidity of competiveness: “My boots are better than your boots….my hair is better than your hair….”. The second verse contains the hilarious line: “Late night, doing what I do best..playing with my Lego sets…”.
Fourth track Good Intentions Will Kill Us is different again, slower and darker with a superb bass line from JanKarl Hayes. The verses use the spoken word conversation style again, discussing gene splicing and the role of vaccines in causing Aspergers but is essentially a pro-science song. Fifth track if you think about it is the kind of fun, super catchy two minute punk pop at which the Milkshakes excel, with a real earworm of a chorus.
Apparently, Kitty Likes Coffee was written when David was in a coffee shop and he started the riff and singing the hook in order to make a little girl smile. It’s a manic exhilaring blast of punk with some weird chord changes and a joyously dumb chorus that you can’t help but sing along with.
Popular is a little more serious and melancholy, a song about being an outsider socially which is a theme that cropped up a lot on their previous album How To Win Friendships…., while Sara Tea is gloriously simple three chord punk rock which is more howled than sung, but is very entertaining all the same. I loved the way the guitar solo is placed in a different key to the song, along with the end refrain “Rob likes music and likes Sara Tea….”.
Sorry Desi apologises to a friend for something I can’t quite make out but it’s another fine song while The Pessimist begins with just guitar and vocal, David McGhee informing us “Gonna be optimistic for the first time in my life…”. It develops into a song about life with depression and features what you would definitely class as dark humour: “Maybe we could both hang the noose, watch us both hang loose, watch the blood drip down to my feet…”.
The brilliantly titled We Sound Shitty So Spin Like Us is altogether a lighter kind of humour, satirizing certain hipster music media publications in a way that hopefully avoids a libel case! It mostly comprises of the title over and over, interspersed with ‘Here’s the verse, here’s the chorus…’. Very dumb and very funny.
Yr Scene is more two minute early Green Day style punk pop featuring finger clicks from the legendary Jack Endino (see above) and leads to the final song You’re The Starbucks of People. Apart from being an other genius song title, it’s another of their anthems to unite the outsiders, and you can imagine their fans chanting along with “You know we have no future…. Every little thing I do is wrong…”.
Overall, this is an immensely enjoyable punk pop album that is just as good, if not better, than their last album. Current fans will find plenty to love, and this one should win over a few more people too. Forget about your Starbucks coffee, it’s time for a taste of The Vanilla Milkshakes…
Verdict: 8.6 out of 10