Be Your Own PET are too cool for school. After early prominent backing from Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, at least one of the scrappy teenage lads in the Nashville punk rock group dropped out of high school to focus on the band.
The punk rockers went on to release their self-titled debut, a record that received acclaim for all its childish power-chord exuberance. Now, Be Your Own PET are back to prove that they still have it with their sophomore album.
But Universal, which distributes Get Awkward in the USA, recently neutered the record, cutting three of the album’s more ‘violent’ tracks. Becky, Black Hole, and Blow Yr Mind – songs about bringing knives to school and killing out of sheer boredom – were removed from the track list for bad behaviour, even though all of the supposedly violent sentiments are couched in a goofy, devil-may-care attitude.
It’s a shame really, since the omitted songs were some of the better offerings here. Black Hole, along with other opening tracks Super Soaked and Heart Throb, showcase a substantial growth in the band’s maturity and songwriting abilities. Be Your Own PET’s recorded sound is crisper and more refined – fast-moving riffs replace the power-chord frenzy of the first album, and gone are the things like 30 consecutive single hits and the moments of complete abandon from their debut.
Singer Jemina Pearl’s subject matter has also developed; now, in addition to goofy songs like Food Fight and Zombie Graveyard Party, there are darker moments where classic punk nihilism combines with an urban desolation along the lines of The Strokes. Pearl’s once piercing shriek that summoned the Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ Karen O now alternates between controlled screams and lower grunts on lines like “I feel the pressure to change my ways, all I see are more dark days” from Super Soaked.
On Black Hole, she continues the dark sentiment (“Living in this city, I get so bored – I want to kill myself on a telephone cord”), but you’re forced to stop and think for a moment when she blurts out “Eating pizza is really great, so is destroying everything you hate”.
Pearl throws cutesy couplets like this into the mix every once and a while, and it’s hard to determine if this band that wears Velvet Underground shirts and lists obscure current bands as influences is really okay with lyrics like “I just want to run around, I just want to party down,” or whether Pearl’s words are placed neatly tongue-in-cheek in front of the band’s explosive punk sounds.
This strange mix of seemingly true heartfelt sentiments and over-the-top goofiness comes to the fore in Becky, a teenage ballad about two former best friends that both musically and lyrically presents a mutated, indie punk version of Grease. The blunt line “We’ll wait with knives after class” is immediately balanced out with the valley girl statement “It’s too bad you got so lame,” delivered over floating, ’50s-style guitar patterns. Immediately, we must recognise – these kids are just out having a bit of fun with us.
The exciting shenanigans continue throughout the entirety of Get Awkward with group shouting matches on Bummer Time, Food Fight, and The Beast Within. Along the way, we get tight riffs (like the Arctic Monkeys-style opening on You’re A Waste), excellent guitar solos, and more quasi-nihilistic lyrical fun (Zombie Graveyard Party’s “Life is lame so let me eat your brain!”).
Whatever it is that fuels Be Your Own PET – their parents in the music business, any of the drugs they sing about doing, zombie flicks – let them keep having it. With Get Awkward, the young punks have constructed a marvellous pastiche of past punk styles complete with a humorous spin all their own. They’ve managed to inject 15 punk songs with youthful energy and just enough variety to keep things interesting, crafting a goofy, yet determined record.