The Upshot: Mid ‘90s release from the Athens outfit stands as the band’s creative apex, a perfect example of taking distinction into richer, more mature territories.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Five Eight is one of the great never-quites in the American underground. The Athens, Georgia trio-cum-quartet made the right kind of noise, musically and otherwise, with its first two records – 1992’s I Learned Shut Up and 1993’s The Angriest Man are both masterclasses on how to translate nervous angst into thrilling guitar rock. Those LPs set the stage for Weirdo, a mature step forward that should have been the band’s breakthrough to the proverbial bigger and better things. It didn’t happen, as these things so often don’t. The band soldiered on, as it does to this day, and Weirdo slipped out of print.
Until now. Austin-based Chicken Ranch Records resurrects Weirdo as a beautiful double LP with bonus tracks, a reworked cover and a sharp remastering job from original album producer David Barbe. All well and good, but superfluous unless the original work is worth the return trip. Unsurprisingly, it is. Not content to simply return to the same hooky well that informed the first two records, Five Eight consciously evolves here. Herky-jerky rhythms, clashing dischords and a refined attack mark tunes like “Stars,” the appropriately titled “Tense It Up” and “You Never Look in My Eyes,” which remain tuneful despite the discomfort. The yearning “Mystery James,” the bonus cut “Strings” and the tense “What They Did,” on the other hand, balance emotional instability with more accessible melodies for intense semi-singalongs. That goes triple for “Hurt You” and “Behead Myself,” which lavish some of the record’s strongest tunes on some of its most upsetting lyrics in a way few bands even attempt, let alone so successfully. The title track, performed by leader Mike Mantione alone, boils the album’s damaged heart and feeds it back to its creator, tough on the outside and tender on the inside.
By avoiding paved roads in favor of the ditch, Five Eight bends itself into new shapes while still keeping to familiar sounds. Weirdo stands as the band’s creative apex, a perfect example of taking distinction into richer, more mature territories.
DOWNLOAD: “Behead Myself,” “Mystery James,” “Hurt You”