This was exactly the album I needed right now.
If you’re anything like me, the past four years have been… pretty rough, to say the least. As a quick refresher, we all lost our minds and elected a corrupt, incompetent, amoral, narcissistic reality TV star as president, and the results were more-or-less what you’d expect. Of course, this past year got exponentially worse with a deadly worldwide pandemic that has already killed almost 400,000 Americans, primarily because a large percentage of the population all decided it was just a hoax. Things should have improved after the 2020 election, but instead the next two months got even more infuriating as the Liar-In-Chief refused to concede and managed to convince millions of supporters that the whole thing was rigged. And finally, the insanity all came to a head last week, when a mob of angry, racist, deluded insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol in a failed attempt to murder politicians and overthrow democracy.
And that’s actually the short version. Crazy, right? So needless to say, a lot of us could definitely use a bit of catharsis. Now, when it comes to socio-political commentary, Five Iron Frenzy has never been shy about tackling controversial issues or speaking truth to power. I mean, their debut album kicked off with a song decrying Manifest Destiny and the displacement of Native Americans.
However, this album is different. The band’s typical interjections of hope, faith, and random silliness are far more subdued this time around; instead, most of the lyrics are overtly angry… and with good reason. Folks, this is an unapologetic protest album, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
On the musical side of things, I think it’s safe to say that Until This Shakes Apart is easily the most ska-heavy album by the band since the late ’90s. And while I do enjoy the “rock with horns” sound that has dominated their discography ever since Five Iron Frenzy 2: Electric Boogaloo, that good ol’ third-wave ska vibe will always hold a special place in my heart. However, instead of the jangly, over-caffeinated guitar sound you typically hear from ska-punk bands, this time it’s more of a slow-burning reggae groove, which fits more closely with the overall theme of social protest. After a few listens, my favorite tracks are probably the hard-driving “Tyrannis,” which absolutely rocks my face off; “Bullfight For an Empty Ring,” a reggae jam likely inspired by the BLM protests; and “Like Something I Missed,” a song full of wistfulness and longing, poignancy and humor: I need a low dose of you believing in me, I need a sheet cake made of victory.
Having read this far into my review, you might think our soon-to-be ex-president is the primary target of the band’s ire. But no, he’s barely mentioned at all. Instead, their lyrical barbs are aimed squarely at the “religious right” and the tragic hypocrisy of many American Christians, specifically those who — whether they’re aware of it or not — have replaced the teachings of Jesus with the the incoherent ramblings of a populist demagogue who preaches a gospel of fear, division, and self-interest. And while it’s true that the unholy merger of Evangelicalism and far-right politics didn’t begin with Trump (and won’t end with him), his rhetoric certainly normalized many of our self-serving impulses and latent prejudices. As such, the first side — with the notable exception of bouncy rock anthem “So We Sing” — focuses on culturally relevant issues like immigration policy (“In Through the Out Door”), economic inequality (“Lonesome For Her Heroes”), social justice (“Renegades”, “Bullfight For an Empty Ring”), and institutional racism (“Tyrannis”).
The tone shifts away from politics a bit on the second side, with relatively lighter songs about the emotional impact of music (“Auld Lanxiety”), our addiction to smartphones (“One Heart Hypnosis”), and being willing to live in an old Volvo with someone you love (“Homelessly Devoted to You”). Although it also includes the single most scathing song on the album, “While Supplies Last,” a passionate cry against Christian hypocrisy, particularly in the context of hoarding during the pandemic:
You said “we all deserve this”
For not forcing kids to pray —
While your party loots the earth,
And you tell us “Jesus saves.”
You’re ignoring half the Gospel,
Wearing clothing made by slaves.
You never “rendered unto Caesar,”
Now you, now you fear the fever,
Fear the bottom dropping out of your stocks.
You voted for the devil,
Let that narcissist embezzle,
Put the hen-house in the mouth of the FOX.
Thankfully, in typical Five Iron Frenzy fashion, the album ends on a tinge of hope with “Huerfano,” a punk-rock encapsulation of true Christianity, in which they joyfully bid all of the orphans, outcasts, and wayward souls welcome. Beyond the calls for economic equality and social justice, it’s a message that seems to have permeated the band’s music throughout their existence. So on that note, I’ll conclude my review with a quote from another blog post I wrote entitled The Gospel of Judas, which discusses our proclivity toward right-wing Christian Nationalism over the simple desire to spread love, grace, and compassion:
As followers of Jesus, our calling isn’t to obtain and maintain political authority in order to advance a socially conservative agenda — it’s to love our neighbors and be lights in a dark world. Yet how many Christian non-profits spend millions of dollars each year advocating for legislation that has nothing to do with the commandments [to repent, to deny ourselves, to love our enemies, to care for the poor and sick, and to forgive one another]? How does lobbying against gay marriage advance the kingdom of God? How does screaming at women outside abortion clinics enable us to love the broken? How does railing against evolution win lost souls? How does ignoring systemic racism help us care for the helpless and oppressed? …If you ask me, it’s time for the Church to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves where our priorities lie.