Chris Farren’s ‘Can’t Die’ Humanizes the Larger than Life Punk Prophet
Chris Farren wears many hats. Like Troy McClure’s character from The Simpsons, you may remember him from such independent rock groups as Fake Problems or Antarctigo Vespucci, the latter of which is co-lead by fellow DIY deity, Jeff Rosenstock. If you’re not familiar with his music, you may know Farren as a self-proclaimed, “punk celebrity,” posing on social media with other punk celebrities or creating viral catch phrases/jingles like, “yes baby” during tour cycles. At the very least, you may have been exposed to his reimagined Smiths t-shirt, a picture of Will, Jayda, Jayden, and Willow below the signature typeface for Morrisey’s band. To Farren’s own surprise, the shirt appeared on the first episode of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
Chris Farren’s idiosyncratic resume also includes a budding solo career. Last year, Farren released his first “proper” solo effort, (not to discount 2014’s Christmas album, Like a Gift from God or Whatever) an EP titled Where You Are. Where You Are provided an initial glimpse of Farren’s serious lyrical content alongside strong hooks and pop sensibilities characteristic of the singer/songwriter. In three tracks, the punk celebrity exposed himself as his own worst enemy, an over analyzer and lonely lover, showcasing a departure from his quirky, novelty Christmas songs.
Can’t Die dives right back into this sincere side of Farren. The lyrical themes on the album further develop his personal accounts of loneliness, insecurity, self-disdain, and the realities and hardships of love. The eminent persona Chris Farren has built for himself is more or less an indirect result of personal misgivings, which he details through his vulnerable songwriting. On Can’t Die, the supersized indie/punk entity is revealed as an imperfect, but uncompromising human, susceptible in doubting his own existence.“You said these parties aren’t for us/so why do we keep showing up/I said it helps to feel human when I don’t,” Farren retrospectively sings in the first verse of “Human Being,” a track that verifies the songwriter’s desire for humanizing experiences, which he reinforces in the chorus hook, “I just wanna feel like a human being.”
Musically, “Human Being” and the other tracks on Can’t Die showcase Farren’s exceptional ability to craft upbeat indie pop singalongs with gloomy lyrical concepts. Citing indie heavy hitters Belle & Sebastian, Coconut Records, and The Magnetic Fields as inspirations for the record, the songwriting on Can’t Die transcends multiple genres and eras beyond the scope of indie pop. The title track and opener, a folkier tune detailing the singer’s resilience in spite of fear and distaste for his surroundings, recalls elements of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young with its steady acoustic guitar strumming, use of tambourine, and vocal cadence. “Still Beating” features a reverberated guitar lead that flows throughout the song; from its gentle intro to a horn line in the bridge, the song distinctly resembles a cut from Paul Simon’s Graceland. Farren also visits the 80s in the synthy “Don’t Be Cruel,” reminiscent of a Cyndi Lauper hit and “I’m Not You,” a softer ballad reflecting Farren’s move from Florida to Los Angeles with his wife. The soothing outro includes some interesting instrumentation of banjo picking alongside a yacht rock saxophone solo. There’s also chiptune featured on “To Insecurity & Beyond,” which incorporates Ric Ocasek handclaps (and a Jeff Rosenstock backing vocal), further showcasing Farren’s diversity in exploring sonic landscapes of the 80s.
Farren’s ability of transcending genre is only surmounted by his expertise in creating a hook. “Say U Want Me,” the album’s first single, is so catchy and upbeat it’s impossible not to sing along to the lines, “I need you most when you’re not around me/I wanna be your everything” and its chorus hook, “Say you want me.” This track and “Flowers” employ elements of 60s pop straight from Phil Spector and Brian Wilson playbooks’. The use of horns, handclaps, and wall of sound instrumentation employed in parts of both tracks adhere to a traditional rock formula, showcasing two styles of oldies pop songwriting in the form of the rocker and the ballad, respectively. Meanwhile, the Antarctigo Vespucci styled, “Everything’s My Fault” implements chunky guitar fuzz and a groovy synth lead resulting in a sensational power pop hit clocking in at a mere two-and-a-half minutes. Take note, Rivers Cuomo.
“Woahs,” “Yeahs,” and “Ba ba bas” appear throughout most of the songs, playing on the strong melodic capabilities Farren so carefully masters. Paired with his deeply personal and honest lyrics, Chris Farren manages to create bittersweet bubblegum on Can’t Die. Light-hearted as he may appear with novelty t-shirts and goofy catch phrases, Farren’s serious side on this record showcases concerns and emotions more human than his larger than life persona leads on. Farren comes to grips with his private struggles and shortcomings which contradict, but certainly do not diminish, his public image. The sweet melodies and hard subjects explored on Can’t Die humanize a man whose prowess of writing 11 cohesive pop hits seem humanly impossible.
Can’t Die is out on September 2nd through SideOne Dummy Records. Pre-order your copy here.