The chequered past of 1990s punk looms over today’s lush musical landscape like Banquo’s ghost with a sticky bleached mohawk and a Carhartt hoodie. Long forgotten flesh holes flap morosely, Offspring t-shirts are stuffed deep into the Narnia section of many wardrobes and the clink of a weighty wallet-chain is a sound rarely heard but oft remembered. Fidlar would have hit puberty around the tail end of the genre’s glory days and, as such, the unreconstructed banter and beer-sodden lyricism of Pennywise, Less Than Jake and NOFX is still something of a sonic highwater mark. It’s to the LA based quartet’s endless credit then, that they manage to not only make their revamping of the sound fresh and funny, but poignant too.
Released in 2013, their self-titled debut professed the joys of cheap alcohol and suspicious white powder over scrappy guitars and sunny, simple licks. This follow-up, which plugs into Blink 182 style humour with its almost magnificently lame title (‘Too’), suggests that nothing much has changed in Fidlar-land. They’re still getting fucked up, freaked out and refusing to grow up. “I figured out when I got sober/That life just sucks when you get older” sings frontman Zac Carper over the glorious, chugging rattle of ‘Sober’. Even so, they’re definitely trying not to let it get them down. ‘West Coast’ is a gleeful, school-skipping road trip that sees them trekking up to Portland, losing a phone and getting monumentally hammered (“got drunk and barfed on my shadow”), whilst calling out suburban staleness and 9 to 5 monotony. Meanwhile, ‘40oz On Repeat’ may well be the best pop punk song since ‘What’s My Age Again’, an irrepressibly catchy, deceptively heavy snarler that should be inciting circle pits for years to come.
Don’t let the buoyant riffs fool you though. Carper’s candid recent interview revelations – including stories of life-threatening heroin overdoses – show there’s a deep-seated darkness at the very core of the band. Fidlar’s first ever ballad, the maudlin, Tom Waits-worthy gutter-punk polka ‘Overdose’ tackles this with a bleak honesty, while ‘Stupid Decisions’ melds a depressing tale of alcoholism and drug addiction into an unlikely, Weezer-esque bounce, proof that being too carefree can sometimes come at a nasty cost.