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Before Everything & After

  • reviewed by Andy Argyrakis Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Sep
Before Everything & After
Sounds like … modern pop/punk akin to New Found Glory, Good Charlotte, and Slick Shoes steeped in the skate-punk roots of The Descendents and Lagwagon.At a glance … the tattooed trio, beginning its second decade, still sports a youthful exuberance, along with touches of musical and lyrical maturity sure to satisfy fans.

When it comes to punk bands with Christian roots, none are more respected, revolutionary, and trendsetting MxPx. Since singer/bassist Mike Herrera, guitarist Tom Wisniewski, and drummer Yuri Ruley got together in high school 10 years ago, the group has been the flagship act for Tooth & Nail Records, influencing many of that label's subsequent bands. MxPx has also a touring veteran, having played with the Warped festivals, pop/punkers New Found Glory, and emo kings Dashboard Confessional. It's no wonder that the group's latest CD is met with great anticipation, as fans and the industry alike wonder if MxPx will be able to reclaim its spot on the punk rock mountaintop.

Before and Everything After marks the trio's 11th career effort and third for A&M, a label that's helped the group's mainstream advancement but has yet to break them on the same hysteria level as pop/punk peers Blink 182 and Sum 41. MxPx hasn't sold out to the watered-down MTV status and pin-up poster boy extent of those former indie idols. Still, this new CD, produced by Dave Jerden (Jane's Addiction, Alice in Chains, The Offspring), does give the band its most accessible, radio-friendly batch of fist pumpers to date. The playful punker "Play It Loud" launches the disc with a mix between the group's standard blows of rowdy tension and gritty vocals, but there also appears to be more attention to artistic detail. Herrera strives to be on key and melodically centered (instead of raucous and scattered as he's been in the past), while Wisniewski and Ruley sound tighter than ever.

That concerted musical effort also makes "Well Adjusted" especially catchy and memorable, packing enough hooks to stay in listeners' minds well after the disc is done. Perhaps that's why the cut earned such positive response—a slew of mainstream radio attention, movie theatre preview placement, and the soundtrack spot in recent Diet Pepsi ads. Instant singalongs like "First Day of the Rest of Your Life" (reminiscent of rockers Something Corporate) and the break-up themed "On the Outs" may soon follow a similar road to notoriety.

Although MxPx has never been overt about spiritual ideals in song, recent interviews indicate that the guys are still rooted in the Christian faith. "You Make Me Me" is one of the record's strongest hints of faith as Herrera sings of a particular relationship with lines like these: "Every night I get down on my knees and pray, and thank the Lord above for you each day/I was lost and then I found you … You make me smile/You make me sing/ You make me scream/You make me everything/You make me me." On the power chord-dominated "The Capitol," the introductory lines could be construed as a message of comfort from a Higher Calling: "When there's nowhere else to hide/When there's no one else to stand beside/And everything seems wrong/I've been with you all along." The album's most noticeable example of faith (and also the most welcome stylistic curveball) is the acoustically generated "Quit Your Life." In the spirit of Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," the band casually strips down its sound to adapt a poignant message of unconditional love in marriage.

Some listeners may be offended by the title of "Everything Sucks" or the seemingly rabble-rousing activities discussed in "Kings Of Hollywood," but neither is worth ruffling feathers over. "Everything Sucks" simply whines in good fun about a long distance relationship, while "Kings of Hollywood" is an innocent anthem about a band on the road (underscored by a surfy Beach Boys meets Roy Orbison riff). Compared to groups who earn "parental advisory—explicit content" stickers on their products (like Sum 41 and GOB), Before Everything and After is suitable for most audiences. Add that to the band's musical improvement and lyrical maturity, and this disc could well be the start of another 10 great years for the ever-youthful MxPx.