Less Than Jake at 30 – Part 7: In With The Out Crowd

2006 was a weird time for music.

It had been over half a decade since Napster brought about a major shake up of how we accessed and listened to music. The platforms that followed in Napster’s wake, with their varying levels of legality, felt a lot like sub par imitations or best guesses at the direction of travel for this industry. You were either paying above the odds for digital files with a sense of ‘ownership’ that left you feeling cold, or your fledgling home computer would be left absolutely battered by viruses.

Physical media was still hanging on, but what a mess that was. Pressing to vinyl had almost entirely dried up and it would be another five years before anyone really cottoned on to the basic concept of a collectors market, shifting records to merchandise rather than medium. CDs were produced, good luck trying to get a copy of your new favourite US artist you’d heard online from any UK retailer though. Distribution was a decade or so behind.

Why is all of this important to the context of Less Than Jake’s sixth studio album (their second for Warner Bros)? Because record execs were shook. That anxiety passed on to the artists they represented. It wasn’t as simple as trends moving along and the ‘pop punk’ sound of 2003 becoming the ’emo’ sensation of 2006. The Internet had blown the traditional pattern of generational change out of the water, creating a post modern era where all genres could exist at once, finding, building and strengthening their own scenes via a network of fans, connected across the world by dial up modems and early broadband services.

I don’t think there was ever a pressure on LTJ to be something they weren’t on In With The Out Crowd, they were just caught up in a major label system that needed a success at whatever cost to continue to perpetuate itself. That would have been the same for 2003’s Anthem. The difference three years later was that the old rule book had been thrown out the window, and with it, the conviction that had made Anthem one of the boldest moments in the band’s history to date.

The band already had a history with appointed producer Howard Benson, working with him on Hello Rockview, still one of their most celebrated records and coincidentally, their second release the first time they were on a major label (Capitol). Could history repeat itself? Benson was fresh off working with Hoobastank, one of the few survivors of nu-metal who he shepherded for their career changing mega hit, The Reason.

Now you know Warner wouldn’t have cared all that much what Less Than Jake’s next release sounded like, nor would they have had much confidence at what might resonate, but pairing the band with someone they’d feel comfortable working with, who’d also had recent success with a band in the rock genre (broadly speaking) was certainly a sign of the label hedging their bets. In additional to this, why limit your potential success to the songwriting abilities of five musicians when you could bring in extra external expertise (I’m terming this ‘the three ex’s strategy’ – ex.ex.ex). For the first time, the band experimented (damn, there’s another ex) with ‘co-writes’.

So Mark Hoppus may have been an obvious choice, what with him side-stepping into more ‘behind-the-scenes’ work around this time, following the (first) high profile demise of Blink-182. He had a lot of experience to bring to the table, making the jump from scrappy immature pop punk to being probably the most recognised band of the genre, within a general audience (argue with yourself over whether you think it’s Blink or Green Day). Plus, LTJ already had a relationship with him from touring together years earlier.

Shelley Peiken and Holly Knight however are likely complete unknowns to you and I. It’s well worth a look through their Wikipedia pages linked above at some of the huge hits they’ve had a hand in. Not punk rock per say, but credible songs and artists to be affiliated with in the eyes of anyone who can see further than the silhouette of their mohawk. Also, and this is something I’m realising with the benefit of time, two women.

How we failed to really acknowledge that the punk rock genre was almost exclusively dominated by men remains a mystery to me. Now, when your perspective is limited to your own gender, perhaps your chances of writing music that resonates with the wider audience required for a smash single, increases when you bring someone to the table, with a greater base level understanding of a sizeable chunk of said audience. Maybe Warner deserve more credit for this, whether it was their intention somewhere deep down, or I’m entirely off base on this one.

The overall result? An album of songs that, while perhaps not immediately recognisable as classic Less Than Jake, provide a revised blueprint for the band’s future songwriting output. Whether you like In With The Out Crowd or not, I believe this album contributes to longevity of LTJ (albeit in a more subtle way) just as much as the fan favourites on Anthem that continue to light up every live show 20 years later. In my personal opinion, this is most evident on their latest record Silver Linings, where there’s clear evidence (we’ll get to that) of the band continuing to push their songwriting (borders and..) boundaries.

Almost 1,000 words in and I’ve managed to avoid telling you whether I do, or don’t like this album. I think that was important not to influence your judgement on the strength of my case for why this minor anomaly in the Less Than Jake discography exists. Have you made your verdict? Good, ok.

I love this album.

B Is For B-Sides and In With The Out Crowd each bookend my college years. During that time my first proper relationship led to my first proper break up, followed by second proper relationship and (I expect you can guess where this is going) a few short months after IWTOC was released, my second break up, somehow more challenging than the first. Perhaps it was the timing. My friends were all going different ways for University and taking logical first steps on the career ladder. I on the other hand had opted to take a year to decide.

It turns out you don’t get a lot of thinking time when you’re working ten hours shift in a retail job you hate. Or maybe it was too much thinking time and not enough chance to take action. Is this beginning to sound like lyrics to a Less Than Jake song? Vinnie’s words had always been melancholic and, at times, quite dark. The songs on this record, just like me, were downright depressed.

Fortunately they were never without moments of hope. The self defeat of Fall Apart or Landmines and Landslides is balanced by the defiance of In-Dependence Day or, the very pertinent, Let Her Go. Recounting it now can make it all seem quite trivial. It was real at the time though and I don’t doubt the events that inspired the lyrics had some significance too.

One thing that will never sit right with me is the production on this record. Nor the band so it seems, with some documented tension between them and the producer during the sessions. It was one thing to shoot higher on the songwriting, another to sterilise the sheer energy that was achieved on Anthem with Rob Cavallo. I think it’s the flattened sound that’s to answer for a lot of people not giving these songs a fair chance.

It was my friend Jim who came through for me again on acquiring this album. I was waiting patiently with fingers crossed for the deluxe edition in release week (I’d learnt my lesson from Anthem and pre-ordered). On the Friday before the Monday release day, Jim messaged to say he’d found a promo copy being resold in a second hand store, did I want it? I was more than happy to pay a few extra quid to hear it early.

I led on my bedroom floor next to the stereo speakers and I was challenged by it on that first spin, despite also liking it a lot. It was more nuanced, less black and white than previous records and that was a great thing for me wrestle with at that point in time.

I did eventually get the deluxe edition and, a year later, the super rare vinyl pressing, sold at the band’s 6 night album show residency in London.

Favourite track: P.S. Shock The World

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