“Don’t get me wrong, he’s a real nice guy, I like him just fine, but he’s a mouth breather” – David Yow.
Where do you turn when life gets you down? Not like some existential “Oh what am I doing with my life?” kind of down, but more “this dickhead in the office is really getting on my nerves” kind of down. The nitty-gritty minutiae of existence that refuses to let up and makes you feel like you’re wading hip-deep in shit. The sludgier, filthier end of grunge has always been a good place to scream out these kinds of frustrations and Pissed Jeans do this better than anyone else.
Most of Honeys is pure downer rock. Mangled blues riffs frame Matt Korvette’s vocals, the best of which sound like the desperate roars of a truly exasperated man. ‘Bathroom Laughter’ is the opener and it hits hard and fast, the completely ruined bass intro soon blown out of the water by rolling drums and Korvette’s barked, insistent vocals. He says it all in the chorus with a truly beyond-caring “Blaaaaargh”. It’s comical, to the point of tragedy. ‘Chain Worker’ seethes with tension, perched on the edge of a vacuum of blank horror, similar to the way the Men used to stretch their anger out into all manner of disfigured, discomfiting shapes before they went country.
Three songs in the middle represent the album’s core. ‘Romanticize Me’ crackles with energy like a great Mudhoney track, lyrics biting down hard on the idea of Korvette being “a sweet and thoughtful man”. ‘You’re Different (In Person)’ is perhaps the highlight of the record, lyrically summing up the disconnect between the real us and the brave combatant selves we can project via our keyboards. Musically it is a brilliantly tight-wound thing, all fuzzy bass and awkward guitar, never quite releasing it’s tension until the glorious repetition of the title at the end. It sounds like Bleach-era Nirvana in some weird way, the darkness of it more than the sound particularly. Cobain’s negative creep is now sustained by the anonymity of digital interaction, flourishing in the post-personal world of the internet. ‘Cafeteria Food’ is a swinging, sarcastic groove about dullness. “Yes, you can use the microwave, it’s an excellent kitchen tool”, drawls Korvette, utterly dispassionate, unable to summon even a modicum of energy.
‘Male Gaze’ has got a lot of attention for Korvette’s lyrics, dealing with sexism and objectification from the point of view of a man guilty of these things in the past but trying to do better. “I’m not innocent, I’m guilty. I’m not innocent but I’m sorry”, he sings in the chorus. It’s an unusual tack, though it ought not to be. It is refreshing though, to hear these things not as a defiant, righteous “kill all sexist pricks” but as a more personal and honest admission of failure, guilt and shame. It’s bound to resonate.
The last third of the record is not as strong as the first two. ‘Cathouse’ is oddly poppy, all power chords and obvious changes. ‘Loubs’ is a gallant attempt at a early QOTSA stomp but it falls flat without the flair or sexuality of that band at their best and it’s big chords are too straight-forward to really captivate. The fade-out at the end sums it all up really. ‘Health Plan’ never really gets going, though it tries awfully hard. It’s frantic and messy but it has little in the way of direction. ‘Teenage Adult’ closes things up with another bluesy, half-time hardcore stomper. It’s a disappointing end to a record that sustains a brilliant negative energy for most of its running time. There’s nothing particularly new about what Pissed Jeans do, Nirvana and the Jesus Lizard have tread these murky waters before, but the lyrics highlight an deeply intelligent, observant mind at work. When the music rises to match them, it’s beautiful and filthy, depressive but never depressing. Energy sprung from dissatisfaction. Man, it feels great.