Thursday, September 9, 2010

v2, d163: Top 7 "Unknown" Five Iron Frenzy songs

My all-time favorite band is/was Five Iron Frenzy.  Most of you know that.  Maybe I'll have a post up someday about exactly why that is.  Or maybe several posts.  Dunno.  They've been broken up for almost seven full years now, and I can still get psyched listening to pretty much any of their albums.  FIF didn't have a huge fan base, but it was (really, still is) a hard-core fan base.  You get some hard-core Five Iron fans talking Five Iron, and it's like we just saw a show last weekend.  It's crazy.

There aren't a lot of FIF songs I don't like.  When they come up on an iPod shuffle, I never skip them.  However, as is the case with any band that puts out more than four or five albums, you've got the songs that "everybody" always associates with them and then the songs that nobody really talks about.  Now, it's hard to qualify the statement "Nobody talks about this" with a niche fan base anyway, but conversations with both hardcore fans and those who liked the band in passing AND a quick glance around the Five Iron community reveals that there are a lot of clear favorites.  There are lots of screennames that are a variation on One Girl Army, for instance, and everybody who saw them play live can tell you what the last three songs on the playlist were.  (Note to FIF fans: that third link could get a touch emotional for you.  You've been warned) 

And then, there are songs that are still great but, for one reason or another, never reached Oh, Canada! or Handbook for the Sellout or A Flowery Song status.

So, it was hard for me to whittle this down to seven.  Some really awesome, relatively obscure songs didn't make it.  But 7 is the gimmick, and so 7 we have.


#7: Giants from All The Hype that Money Can Buy

"Who's behind that curtain anyway, who pulls the levers and tells the lies?
Giants roam the land today, gaining dominance with every stride..."

ATHTMCB was a weird album.  It felt like the band completely switched styles on almost every single track.  It was this totally eclectic, often quirky collection of tunes that, ultimately, produced very few Fan Favorites.  (Phantom Mullet, World Without End, and A New Hope are the only ones you hear much about anymore)  They jumped from pseudo-salsa to '80s faux-metal to a slower Caribbean flair to a hip-hop spoof to a Tom Jones cover to a worshipful circus-y sounding tune. 

And then there was Giants.  It's hard to classify Giants, but with its dramatic pseudo-frightening orchestration, its character-driven melody, and its overall theatrical presentation, it sounds almost like something that wouldn't sound too out of place in an off-Broadway musical.  I remember listening to this song once on a bus driving across a dead Kansas prairie at daybreak in the winter and getting legitimately creeped out.  (Why hello, creepy little girl reading poetry!) 

Now, with all its oddity, it's not hard to figure out why Giants was never a mega-hit.  (Also, apparently punk-rockers don't rally around a song that uses fantastical imagery to illustrate the evils of Corporate Darwinism)  However, the very elements that made the song relatively inaccessible to much of FIF's loyal legions are also probably the ones that gave it a definite cult status in my own heart and mind.

(As for the picture on the I said, All The Hype was a bizarre album)

#6: Juggernaut from Five Iron Frenzy 2: Electric Boogaloo

"Freedom lifts me like a song, where the weak shall be made strong.
I may sink before I swim, but I'm not giving in to you..." 

FIF 2 was also a relatively unpopular album.  It's actually one of my favorites.  To me, it felt like the closest the band did to a pure rock album.  Which, again, is why the hardcore rudeboys hated it.  "You can't skank to it!" was a common complaint. 

Juggernaut was not one of the best tracks on the album, musically speaking, but it had a lot of character.  It sings of struggling, suffering, and patiently enduring in the hope of one day overcoming.  There's never a "Yay!  Jesus delivered me again!" moment of triumph; rather, the song keeps coming back with "I may sink before I swim, but I'm not giving in," and "Freedom like a song, the weak shall be made strong."  It's hope in a victory that has not yet been achieved, and a lot of times songs like that tend to come off as major downers.  Juggernaut is different, though.  I always found it really encouraging when I was face in the dirt.  And for that reason, it's on tonight's Top 7.

(Another note on Electric Boogaloo: best album artwork, from front to back, of any FIF record.  I think Dennis' wife did the photos, and they're amazing)

#5: Second Season from Our Newest Album Ever!

"I wonder if these minutes were my last,
If I should choose to feast or start to fast.
Will I pray or will I thirst, hope for good or something worse?
What emotions will I feel, will I run or will I kneel?"

This was years before I Can Only Imagine ever hit the airwaves, by the way ;-)

This song is so obscure, nobody's uploaded a youtube video of it! :-( 

Second Season, in a lot of ways, doesn't feel like a FIF song.  Reese isn't singing, Dennis is.  There's no snarky wit.  The horns are really subdued.  I can see why most FIF fans don't remember it.  But it's such a nice, mellowing sort of song!  It's one of those that you just sorta end up feeling nice after.  It's not mind-blowing, it's not even majorly mood-altering, but it is a very pleasant three minutes and a nice, easy reminder that, regardless of what's falling apart in this world, everything will be perfect in the world to come. 

#4: Litmus from Our Newest Album Ever!

"They ripped you off, they entertained, 
They never tried to ease your pain.
You thought you knew where God belonged,
But songs were sung and the band played on..."

Like Second Season, Litmus was buried on an album full of many of FIF's most popular songs ever.  Handbook for the Sellout, Where is Micah?, Superpowers, Blue Comb '78, Oh, Canada!, and Every New Day ALL came from this 1997 release.  In fact, Our Newest Album Ever! is probably the album that made FIF "big."  So naturally, some great songs were going to fall by the wayside, and this was one of them. 

It was also a bit harder-hitting than most of the album.  Also, not a ton of folks know what litmus paper is.

I mean, other than that, I really can't figure out why more people don't love this song.

#3: Fahrenheit from All the Hype that Money Can Buy!

"I was in eighth grade, I said he was a queer.
I thought he had it coming. He died of AIDS that year.
My liberty, like Christ's death meant nothing to me..."

Here's another song I can't find on youtube.  Sad day.

This is a really honest song about a pretty tough topic, and that mans it'll never have the mass appeal of "Gotta rock the screen with co-sine graphing on my calculator!"  The story behind the song: as a kid, FIF frontman Reese Roper's favorite record was Queen's Flash Gordon soundtrack.  He loved Queen.  Then, in junior high, he learned that Freddy Mercury was gay, and suddenly he hated Queen.  He joined in all the queer-talk as he and his buddies would bash the band.  Later that year, Freddy Mercury died of AIDS, and Roper later became broken-hearted at how callously he'd mocked a dying man who needed Christ.  "Predisposed to bigotry; the regular run-of-the-mill American story. Stench of greasepaint on our faces, pass the mask to our next of kin, instead of wiser idioms like 'Love the sinner, hate the sin.'"  

Any time a songwriter gets that personal, it usually makes some listeners at least a little uncomfortable.  And it was a controversial topic to begin with.  Plus, it was on that one quirky album.  But it's a great song, if a sad one, and it makes a valid and challenging point about grace. 

Incidentally, one thing I always loved about FIF was that they were a band that forced me to face some ideas I wasn't totally comfortable with in my own faith, and I'll forever be grateful to them for it.  This was one of the songs that did that. 

#2: Car from Five Iron Frenzy 2: Electric Boogaloo

"Imagine you held so tight your best friend,
Left him to fly, and never could reach him.
Standing on the shore where two waves meet,
Are you just beyond the other side of music?"

Another song with no vid.  Sorry.  Also not a ton to say about this song, other than it's another song that brings a hopeful feel to a terribly sad situation.  The song was written in remembrance of saxophonist Leanor Ortega (who really never shook the "Jeff the Girl" tag from the band's early years and is also no longer an Ortega)'s brother, who died in a car wreck.  Obviously, it's a moving song that promises to look ahead in honor of those who are left behind.   "Now he will be used in our Father's army," Leanor writes of her brother, "Not as one who kills, but one who always heals.  Can I take his burden? Who am I to follow?  We are blessed, we endure.  I am blessed, I will endure."  Fantastic stuff.

#1: The Greatest Story Ever Told from All the Hype that Money Can Buy!
"Welcome to the longest mile, more costly things we'll never hold,
Wonderful is our journey, the greatest story ever told..."

Why yes, it is a little odd that the only video I can find of this song has Veggie Tales characters.  But what are you going to do? 

Apparently I really consider ATHTMCB to be a really underrated album.  I don't know that that's the case, but I think a lot of the songs are better than people give them credit for.  Here we are, at number one on my list, and I can't really think of all that much to say about this song.  It's a tough one to dance to, the melody is kind of weird, but I love it.  It's about...well, it's about life.  Life as a journey.  A journey worth taking.  A story worth telling.  And while the writer in me wasn't even a writer back then, I think that's a beautiful picture.

Honorable mentions: Third World Think Tank from Upbeats and Beatdowns; You Gotta Get Up from Happy Christmas (a Rich Mullins cover that, to this day, Roper regrets having done), Four Fifty-One, Hurricanes, and All the Hype from All the Hype that Money Can Buy!, and Far, Far Away and Plan B from Electric Boogaloo.  Look them up for yourselves.  Enrich your lives.  Go forth and rock out, my friends.