Jeff Rosenstock’s punk opus “WORRY.” is three years old as of Oct. 14. I can see the question forming on your lips right now: who writes a retrospective on a three-year-old record? We do.
Love. This is the ultimate punk album for people who know nothing about punk, because so much of it dips into other musical traditions. Much of it feels a lot more like emo, perhaps “indie rock,” however one might define that, with the occasional electronic influence (the brief drum machine refrain on “Pash Rash,” for example) and Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen even compares the latter half of the album to the “Abbey Road Medley” from the The Beatles’s eponymous 1969 pop rock masterpiece. I’m one of those punk know-nothings — I tell people I like Black Flag, but only because Dirty Projectors covered the near entirety of Black Flag’s “Damaged” in “Rise Above,” and I like “Rise Above.” Beyond that, Henry Rollins scares me.
So, does the appeal of “WORRY.” lie merely in its ease of access? It’s pop punk that flows like silk, but that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of punk involved. Much of the record’s lyrics involve Rosenstock’s conspicuous, vulnerable grapple with anxiety (take the album’s title, for example), but his anger with various aspects of “society” become ubiquitous as the album carries on. He rails against gentrification and landlords in “Staring out the Window of Your Old Apartment,” against class disparity in the pugnacious, 30-second screamer “Planet Luxury” and against the tireless, unhealthy cycle of the internet in “To Be a Ghost…”
Rosenstock isn’t afraid to air his own insecurities, nor is he afraid to tackle the dimmer parts of modern living — its injustices and unhealthiness — and he’s unafraid to really strain his vocal chords while doing it. In some way, he foresaw the imminent rise of the alt-right and radical conservatism in the U.S. (against which punk is inherently opposed), for example in the cutting line “hate’s not a fad that dies with its virality” from “To Be a Ghost…” His followup to “WORRY.,” 2018’s “POST-,” tackles political issues much more explicitly, and is essentially a direct result to President Trump’s first year or so in office. It’s also more of a punk album, I’d wager, than “WORRY.,” being more focused in its critique and rage against a specific entity.
So, what makes “WORRY.” such a compelling punk phenomenon lies in its contrast to “POST-”: Jeff Rosenstock spends a lot of time on “WORRY.” singing about himself, about his issues, and about his triumphs and failures. It’s unrelentingly relatable, tear-jerking in the right moods and at some points transcendental. (Have I mentioned that he’s an incredibly talented musician, and that the production is pitch-perfect?)
Maybe it’s music-critic blasphemy to say this about a record that came out the same year as Frank Ocean’s “Blonde,” but “WORRY.” was undeniably the best album of 2016. At least, for me. It soundtracked a lot of important parts of my life (I started college in 2016, after all) and it introduced me, for better or worse, to the expansive world of contemporary pop punk (and ska?!). I don’t care if you grew up bumping D’Angelo or puking at My Chemical Romance and Green Day: just give this record a shot. It’s much more than the myriad labels I’ve given it.
More love. Ska punk is a merging of sounds that compliment each other to perfection, and Rosenstock epitomizes this for the entire genre as perhaps its most masterful artist. Full disclosure, this is possibly my favorite album ever, and some opinions may be biased.
To begin, “WORRY.” is an album for every punk fan; it dabbles in different territories of punk music while still letting the songs bleed into one another and introduce one another as all concept albums do. Writing a consistent concept album can be a tightrope walk between all the songs sounding the same and the songs sounding disjointed as if there were not a concept behind them at all. What I love most about “WORRY.” is that not only does each track differ from the other in style and sound without sounding unfamiliar, but they even pop in and out of genres without all melding together, making for one very cohesive work.
“Festival Song,” is angry and loud and subversive and fun and fast, so fast that it all goes by too quick; it’s good punk. Yet, it has an upbeat ska feel to it. It criticizes some aspects of the punk scene itself and it even has a fun rhyme scheme. Above all, this angry-but-goofy song is about anxiety: anxiety over finances, friends, personal identify, the vulnerability of the things you love, politics and economics. To me, it’s sort of like the crux of the album, the median marker around which we can orient the other titles.
Going more toward the fun and sing-songy aspect of the album, “I Did Something Weird Last Night,” features Rosenstock voice-cracking into a bad falsetto as a middle schooler would do to make fun of a pop song. It’s hilarious, and yet somehow meaningful. It’s a fun love song in an album about anxiety, and it fits perfectly.
Another genre bending aspect of this is the song “Planet Luxury,” which smashes in there just five and a half minutes later. It’s 30 seconds in which Rosenstock belts out 80 words, ending the song on a long deep scream that seemingly shredded the guy’s vocal chords. It’s something much closer to hardcore punk, and frankly some of the most accessible stuff I’ve heard from the hardcore genre.
To contrast, the song two titles down could have been written by Green Day. If they had a little more ska influence, maybe, but still. “June 21st,” is a little kitschy, and it revels in that. Rosenstock sings “It’s beautiful out there, / there’s nothing I’d rather do. / Than slay the nightmare / arm in arm with you,” and as cheesy as it is, the pop-est punk song on the entire album evades the main criticism of pop punk: it’s totally genuine. It feels, and is, entirely as Rosenstock would want it to, without pandering to an audience or a zeitgeist.
I could write forever about this album, and each song deserves its own article. It’s a collection of completely different works that each come from a different genre despite being on the same cohesive concept album. It’s got some truly violent screaming, but it’s not fully screamo. And although it has some catchy melodies, it’s not purely pop-punk, despite people who complain about it being so. It’s a punk album and deserves to be called that.
Above all, “WORRY.” is an album for everyone. It’s beautiful and sad and angry and sweet and touching and still yet very, very punk.
Thanks, Jeff. May it be 84 degrees forever.