Less Than Jake at 30 – Part 5: Anthem

So far in this series, each of the albums covered, in chronological order, were released before I had any knowledge of the band (I first heard All My Best Friends.. in late 2000). Anthem was the first Less Than Jake record where I got to experience the full cycle.

This likely started in 2002 when Kerrang! magazine ran a feature about the band recording at Morning View Studios in Malibu with legendary producer Rob Cavallo. This was a time where the majority of news still came to us via print press. Websites existed, but there wasn’t the direct to fan infrastructure for bands that came about two years later with MySpace. The magazine was still important, and rather than retweeting articles online, copies were passed around between friends.

I didn’t buy Kerrang! every week. I was still recovering from years of pocket money spent on Smash Hits and Top Of The Pops magazines in the 90’s. Instead I would usually take an initial read of a friend’s copy (thanks Ed and Jim), then decide whether I wanted to buy my own based on the potential for wall art from the flyers and band photos dotted throughout that particular issue.

I still have the photos of the band cut from the aforementioned article.

I was working my way through the band’s discography at this point in time, so I wasn’t desperate for the new album on the horizon, it was just good to know there was a road map to more LTJ material in the months ahead once I’d got my fill of everything that had come before.

I became much more eager when a more formal announcement of Anthem was made in early 2003. On a pop up page from their main website, the band had a campaign page for the album, visually divided into three sections. As you clicked through these a piece of animation would start, accompanied by a song. These were She’s Gonna Break Soon, Science of Selling Yourself Short and Look What Happened. I must have played through these countless times. And even though one of those tracks had appeared on Borders & Boundaries, a new version was just as intriguing as the two other entirely new songs.

Not long after this came a megamix of short samples from each track on the album. Again, I played this over and over, willing each snippet to continue playing into the full song. When I’d eventually accept I needed to wait until May for the rest, I’d usually put another LTJ album on as a sort of nicotine patch for what was becoming something of a rabid addiction.

Prior to the record’s release we got She’s Gonna Break Soon as a full single and video featuring Alexis Bledel from Gilmore Girls. Even at this point I think I had a vague knowledge of the show, but I’d never seen it and didn’t until about 7 years later when my partner Sam made me watch it in the early days of our relationship. I gave it ago on the basis of the LTJ connection. It quickly became one of my all time favourites.

Still firmly in the era of CD singles, I was able to buy a copy of the song with it’s b-side The Brightest Bulb Has Burnt Out. A version of a track due to feature on the album, with a verse recorded by Billy Bragg. I sort of knew who he was. I’m sure I read that his part was recorded at home in Bridport, Dorset. If I’m correct, that means a little piece of the broader Anthem project (more on that next month) was recorded an hour’s drive from me, within my home county. That’s pretty cool.

At this point in the story, it makes sense to segue to my post on the first time I saw Less Than Jake at Cardiff University on Sunday 18th May 2003. This is a key part of my Anthem story, mostly because the show took place the night before the record came out (in the UK at least). If you’ve read that, I’ll continue with what happened the day.

One of the conditions of getting to go to the gig (I was still only 15), was that I spent the entirety of the next day revising for my IT GCSE exam which I had to sit on the Tuesday. I can now say, 19 years later, in no way beholden to my parents, with absolute truth, that I probably spent about an hour doing that. For context, I will probably take longer writing this post.

More important than a qualification, or my future on that day was getting into town to pick up a copy of the album. I’d already decided that I wanted the deluxe edition that came with the bonus DVD and individual art cards, all featuring an illustration from a different artist, based on the lyrics for each track. WOW.

Of course, my tiny regional branch of HMV didn’t have this, which put me in a predicament. Do I go for the standard edition and purchase the deluxe at a later date? This was before I had a job, my pocket money didn’t afford me the luxury of multiple copies. Unbelievably, despite my peak level of excitement to hear the record in full, I decided to exercise patience and ordered the deluxe edition in. Did you ever do this at HMV in the early 2000’s? They had you by the bollocks. I was looking at £20 minimum and who knows how long to wait for it to arrive.

Living in the wake of that decision was tough. If only I’d had Spotify back then. The ability to listen now and buy later would’ve tied me over. By the weekend I was out in our next town along for the day with friends, holding the standard edition in my hands again and wondering whether to just go for it. One shop later, a tiny little basement record store, tucked behind a bus stop in the centre of town I saw it. THE DELUXE EDITION. I bought it without a second thought.

I love the set for everything it includes, but I think it’s the overwhelming joy and sense of relief I felt in the moment that is the reason it still means so much to me two decades later. When the band re-issued the album on vinyl in 2020, and I was finally able to own the record on that format, it was quite fitting that they chose to use the deluxe edition artwork for the sleeve.

I loved the concept of the unique artwork for each track. The idea stuck with me for years, and in 2010 when I was left with some sets of lyrics that hadn’t been used for our band’s EP, I decided to bring them to life through a different medium and sent them to four different artists, giving them total free reign to interpret the words in their illustration. The result was a series of prints called ‘The Restless’. You can check each of them out via the links below:

It wasn’t just the art cards in that deluxe edition that left a lasting impression on me at 15. The DVD ‘making of’ the album, which was essentially the Kerrang! article from 2002 brought to life, was a big nudge for me in the direction of wanting to be in a band and make music. Although our California seafront studio was an extension on the side of our producer’s parent’s place in Harrow, London and our accommodation was with a friend of a friend in a shared house situated below the M4 in Brentford, I like to think that the video we made of our own adventure in 2009 at least captures a similar energy.

Borders & Boundaries might be my favourite LTJ album start to finish, but there’s no denying that Anthem was a big step up in production for the band. It established a benchmark for how the band could/should sound for subsequent records; polished, not perfect. Few bands get to work with Rob Cavallo on multiple records. I’d argue that they don’t need to when they’re able to absorb the experience and apply it themselves in the way Roger has as producer of LTJ’s records since 2008.

This album is the sound of getting home from school in the Summer of 2003, cracking open the Velux window in my loft conversion bedroom, feeling the breeze flow in, hearing the opening blasts of Welcome To The New South and beginning to make plans for the weekend ahead. A great time in my life, the first days of everything that brought me to where I am now.

Favourite track: Motown Never Sounded So Good

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