It was 2002. I was recently 18 and less than a year away from graduating high school in Melbourne, FL. I was born in Melbourne and lived in Brevard County until I was 24. For much of my early adult life, I figured I’d live there forever. It’s a weird part of the weirdest state in the union, a sprawling area full of beach towns populated by apolitical surfers and stoners, conservative retirees, active military personnel, government contractors and NASA employees. Cow pastures converted into strip mall parking lots and filled to the brim with SUVs. Seemingly endless subdivisions, each with street after street of identical family homes on identical plots of land. A strange cultural divide between those who lived on the mainland (rednecks who own guns, mostly) and on the barrier islands (those aforementioned surfers and retirees). All told, it wasn’t a bad place to grow up; the weather was usually really nice, and it was a hell of a lot easier to find good burritos. There was a dearth of independent culture there, however, and the Internet hadn’t really taken off yet in terms of aiding discovery, which meant those craving it in such a formative, malleable time in their life like I did had to actively seek it out.
More than anything else, what really got me into punk rock were cheap compilations. While file-sharing had at that time begun to creep up into the consciousness of music fans, physical media (CDs in particular) were still the domineering force. I had more goddamn CDs than I knew what to do with; some of my friends had even more than me. A lot of them were compilations released by labels like Epitaph, Fat Wreck Chords, Nitro, Hopeless / Sub City, Asian Man, Victory and Drive-thru. These comps, which were always between four and six bucks each, were my gateway into independent culture, a world that had been loudly existing outside the mainstream for several years before I became cognizant of it. These bands were smarter, more thoughtful and more aggressive than anything being played on the radio, and I was hooked. Through those comps, I not only found some of my favorite bands, it gave me labels to follow, labels I trusted enough to check out any new band they signed. In 2002, these comps and bands’ albums I discovered through them dominated the CD player in my beat up 1994 Buick Regal. But one of them stood apart.
Apathy and Exhaustion, in hindsight, is not the best Lawrence Arms album. It’s top-heavy, and the Brendan Kelly / Chris McCaughan ratio is way off. But at that time and in that place, it was the perfect album for me. At that age, I was psychologically perched firmly between the snot-nosed, zit-faced bullheadedness of adolescence and the new-found ability to experience perspective and introspection that arrives with adulthood. Brendan was my past, Chris was my future, but they were both my present. I incessantly listened to it at home and in the car, strategically placed “Your Gravest Words” and “Boatless Booze Cruise (Part 1)” on who knows how many mixtapes, and generally did everything fanboys do when they’re enamored with a thing and have no idea how to not annoy others about it. From there, my relationship with the Lawrence Arms’ music influenced quite a lot of my life, and those days aimlessly driving around and badly yelling along to Apathy and Exhaustion are directly tied to the vast majority of my favorite memories as a punk fan, including the several times I’ve seen the band live, from a sparsely attended Orlando club show in the summer of 2004 where they opened for Tsunami Bomb to a completely bananas, sardine-packed performance at Cleveland’s Grog Shop in the dead of winter in 2012, where people were literally hanging from the rafters with one hand and furiously finger-pointing with the other. It’s funny how much one seemingly small and insignificant discovery like that can forever alter one’s life path. We were always a band or a movie or a piece of art away from being a totally different person. Hell, we still are.
I don’t need to extensively recite the Lawrence Arms’ history from there. They released The Greatest Story Ever Told in 2003, which in the minds of many of their fans is their most complete and realized work. Then in 2006, they released Oh! Calcutta!, which was much rawer and more direct than TGSET but contained some of the band’s best songs to date anyway. Then, other than the 2009 Buttsweat and Tears EP and some sporadic shows, they went away (collectively). Brendan had some kids and did the Falcon and the Wandering Birds, Chris did Sundowner, moved to Portland and did Sundowner some more, Neil joined Smoking Popes, Treasure Fleet and probably some other bands. They were busy separately, but collectively it seemed they’d lost their momentum, and in this scene and this day and age where there are more (bad) bands than ever, it can be hard for a band to gain a second wind.
But Metropole accomplishes just that. It’s simultaneously classic Lawrence Arms and very much of the moment. The guys are older now, their voices are more weathered, and their lyrics about aging ring truer than ever, but that urgency, calculated melody and underrated musicianship they’ve cultivated over the years endures. Not only that, but it instantly brings me back to that moment 12 years ago when I was little more than a rudderless barely-legal adult, and, realized through punk rock that life is more or less one big accident. We can try and control it all we want but really, it’s best to just let it roll.