Mighty Mighty Bosstones: The Magic of Youth

This is–almost!–the last album in this series (though not the last album released). It’s taken me so long to get through this listen-along that the Bosstones have released another album in the interim (When God Was Great). Also because of how long I’ve been doing this, it no longer feels like a cohesive project, though of course you can read all the rest of them easily enough. But it was fun to have something specific to get me listening to these albums again, and recounting memories.

The Magic of Youth came out in 2011, a year that seems impossibly long ago (surely the album’s only been out for like 3-4 years, not 10?). It’s their second post-hiatus album release, after Pin Points & Gin Joints.

I have delayed hitting play while I wrote my little introduction, because the album starts with a bang and I know I won’t have much time to futz around. It starts with bass and distorted guitar. Even the horns sound kinda angry. This song gives me chills, I don’t know why. “Do everything that we want to do/Try everything there is to try/There’s nothing out there stopping me or you/Do everything before we die.”

It’s kind of got “fuck it,” vibes, and “Let’s do this” vibes. A reminder that the biggest thing stopping you in any endeavor might just be yourself (especially, she added editorially, if you’re white and straight and middle/upper class). There’s a little swoopy part in the middle that’s like a tiny dance break (I always see Ben in my head when this part of the song goes by) before it kicks back in again. This song is a great album opener. And set opener, I love hearing the Bosstones play this live.

“Like a Shotgun” is, I think, either about Dicky falling in love or about becoming a father, which I think he did around this time. There’s some shades of “That Bug Bit Me” in this, where it feels like he’s talking metaphorically and literally at the same time. I like to sing along with this song, and it’s great live, just carries you along, but I don’t feel a huge personal connection to the lyrics.

Both of these songs (and more and more with the Bosstones, throughout their history) have a lot of sonic layering going on. It’s more complex now than it was early in their careers when they just cranked the distortion on the guitars and Dicky’s voice up to 11. But “Shotgun,” especially, manages to approximate the overwhelming noise that is being at a concert, with the horns and the amps and the PA system and the noise of the crowd all mixing together to make this wall that feels almost physical at times.

“Disappearing,” by contrast, has these quiet moments where there’s not much happening other than the drums and the horns. Joe Sirois also has one of my all time favorite drum breakdowns in this song (in 2012, I think, I went to the Throwdown, and I was really excited to hear Sirois do this solo live but instead they had the Dropkick Murphys’ drummer Matt on stage to share the solo with him, which was cool but also disappointing). I think it’s a snare drum that’s tuned really tight so it sounds more hollow than snappy? Look I don’t know, I’m not a drummer. But it is neat. That’s all.

“Sunday Afternoons on Wisdom Ave” is a more fun, sorta lighthearted song about a chunk of Dicky’s childhood. The keyboards is doing a lot of the work of the ska rhythm here, harmonizing with the guitars. (I realize that I’m a person who is almost always focused primarily on vocals, trying to find ways to talk about the music. There’s a lot to listen to and pay attention [HAHA I see what I did there] to on the instrumentals on this album. I apologize to anyone who’s an actual musician, reading me try to articulate what I’m hearing is probably painful. I’m also trying really hard to not mention Phil fucking Ramone).

Looking at the track list, the first five tracks on this album get played at their shows pretty regularly. I know that other Bosstones fans have kept track of setlists (there’s a spreadsheet that I could find if I went looking) and at this point have a database of ever single song and how often it’s played. I wonder if anyone’s calculated the prevalance of songs per album in live set lists (they probably have).

“They Will Need Music,” though it’s basically in the middle of the album (holy smokes we’re already in the middle of the album?) is often near the end of their set. Very end? It’s fun and triumphant. I’m just losing myself in a reverie of seeing the Bosstones in person, now. The lights and the noise and Matty picking me up so I can see and the circle pit and Lerch picking me up when I fall and other people’s sweat and confetti coming out of the ceiling…sigh. The outro on this song is JG (the keyboard player) getting to have a little solo mess around time (like, completely solo, like he’s alone on stage), kinda ragtimey, it’s fun. I think there are people who don’t like this song or are tired of it (just as there are people who don’t like “Death Valley Vipers, which, I just don’t understand), but those people are wrong.

“The Package Store Petition,” I don’t think I’ve ever heard them play this song live? It’s okay, not my favorite. One of those songs where Dicky is telling a story that’s not exactly his–he’s putting himself in this other guy’s head, I mean, and telling a story from that perspective. There’s tension in the horns, giving away that there’s some bad things going on. It’s one of those songs where the Bosstones manage to sound more threatening during the quiet parts? Oh, now that I hear Dicky sing “It’s hell they’ll caaaaaatch,” I think I have heard this song live. That’s bringing back some memories.

Have I seen the Bosstones live so often that now I can transplant any of their songs into a live situation? Some people know exactly how many times they’ve seen the Bosstones, I used to but I lost count sometime in 2004 around show 26 (I could probably go back and count, I keep ticket stubs and things). I know that I’m well above 50. At this point, it’s just as much about seeing people in the crowd as it is about seeing the Bosstones. I never really had friends to go to shows with in high school and college–eventually I made some, but my mental default to going to shows is still that I go by myself. Bosstones shows are really the only time when I go to a show to see more than just the band–I get to hang out with Bill and Steve and Matty and Lerch and Will and Xtine and Jonathan and Skippy and Flynn and Audrey and Chris and Boston and Caitlin and Nick and Phyro and and and and. It’s good to see people you know in the pit. It’s good to make plans to get beers before or (and?) after.

“The Horseshoe and the Rabbit’s Foot.” The horns in the intro to this song always make me want to dance like Molly Ringwold in The Breakfast Club. (LOL, the dog just groaned at me. I think he needs to go for a walk. Album’s almost done, dog.) (Also, look, I’ll be honest, I’m struggling a little bit to come up with things to talk about here, can I just skip to the end and babble about “Open and Honest”? Though, really, what I love about Open & Honest is that it’s full of references to their previous songs/albums which is hard to chart in a blog entry, so you might as well just go and see that I annotated it on genius dot com.

“The Magic of Youth” is a little bit like “Toxic Toast” and a little bit like “She Just Happened,” though less optimistic and nostalgic than either of those. Which is funny, because the title on its own is sweet and nostalgic–but there’s an edge to the lyrics that isn’t really there in “Toxic Toast.” There’s so many signifiers of downright poverty in the lyrics–“Do things on shoe strings to make the ends meet/Cut costs and corners in order to eat/Low income housing they couldn’t afford/Bills and collectors that they just ignored” If you’re in low income housing and you’re still dodging bills and “cutting corners” (I assume that means stealing) in order to eat….you’re in a pretty bad place. Up against the wall. In “Toxic Toast,” the characters in that song are broke as shit, and know it, and don’t care. They’re having fun. They’re young and dumb and okay with it. This song? Isn’t about that sort of being broke. This is about drugs, and doing shit you don’t want to do just to keep both ends of your body together.

I’m not sure if the couple in this song have a happy ending? The song says they stay together, “older and sickly and waiting to die.” Who knows how old “old” is, here, though. And who knows how long they could keep going with the particular hustles that are mentioned in this song, or what they started doing when those gave out.

“The Upper Hand.” I’m listening to the intro on this song and obviously I’ve heard it a bunch, but I’m realizing that I don’t actually know any of the lyrics or what this song is about. It’s managed to escape me. Onward!

“The Ballad of Candlepin Paul.” The Bosstones played this song once at a Throwdown with the real Candlepin Paul there in attendance. I think Dicky wrote this song at least partly as a joke and/or to annoy the Dropkick Murphys’ bassist and vocalist Ken Casey. But it’s also about Boston history, so who knows, maybe it’s 100% sincere (in keeping with Dicky’s general lyrical themes of contrast, and metaphors vs literals and things like that, it’s useful to view Dicky as Schroedinger’s Lyricist: He is both 100% sincere and 100% silly and full of shit, all at the same time). I admit that this is one of those songs where I kinda go, “Sooooo you had a finite amount of money and time to spend in a studio and you decided to do this with it,” not because the song is bad or anything like that, but just because….motherfuckers wrote a song about bowling. Bowling.

Okay! “Open and Honest.” Great fucking song. Is just crying out for a montagey music video. When I realized that this was the song I would be discussing last, I was actually really excited. Like what a great way to cap off my years-long series. And then, as I mentioned, the Bosstones put out a new album, so I have to review that at some point. It’s fine. Everything’s fine.

The song references all of the Bosstones’ pre-hiatus studio albums (Devil’s Night Out, More Noise & Other Disturbances, Don’t Know How to Party, Question the Answers, Let’s Face It, and Pay Attention). The references are not quite in order of album release which honestly bothers me a little bit (I bet it bothers Dicky too), but sometimes you have to make sacrifices so that things can rhyme.

  • “May I say we’ve been this way now since the day we met the devil”
  • “We won’t be bought and sold controlled or told he don’t know how to revel”
  • “The noise you’ve been hearing, the culmination of an awful lot of people caring”
  • “Let’s face what you’re afraid of”
  • “You don’t know when they might throw at you a curveball or a question”
  • “So let’s not mention who you paid attention to”

The last words of the song (and the album) are, “Nothing left to say, thank you.” Which I’m pretty sure is just referring to this song/album, not the band as a whole (especially since they’ve released two albums since then). But it also sorta encapsulates how I feel (not that I’m going to let that stop me from saying more) about the Bosstones: Nothing left to say, thank you.

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