My favorite living band is one where all the guys in the band have day jobs. One’s a mechanic, another is a music teacher. It’s hard to find out much about them — and I may never have a chance to see them live because they only play in Europe — but the mystery surrounding Cyanide Pills is almost as intoxicating as their perfect blend of socially conscience punk rock and Brill Building-level songwriting.
One of my favorites is “Dictator” from their first album. It makes me laugh out loud every time I hear it. The song nails the phenomenon of a dictator right on the head, with an extreme amount of truth, humor, fun, melody and musicality. It is the closest I’ve heard to the musical equivalent of a political cartoon, or a piece by Banksy.
Cyanide Pills have mastered a super-smart brand of songwriting craft. I don’t think I’ve been as impressed with a band since Nirvana. For lovers of albums, rock and roll, and SONGS, they are pure candy. Punk rock crack cocaine. Dee Dee Ramone would be proud.
Their musical style is familiar: Pistols, Buzzcocks, Ramones. But because of the songs, they are better than all the bands that influenced them. I wish there was a documentary on their daily lives, how they write and record their next album, rehearse and tour.
But then that would destroy the mystery. I’m kind of ok just leaving it as it is. Centuries from now people will still wonder about them. and how they created such amazing art. Rock and roll Shakespeares.
To me, it’s not about being punk rock or not being punk rock — it’s about songs. Rock and roll music, by and for the people. Relevant music that blows away anything any corporation will put out, ever. The antithesis of propaganda. The kind of music that douchebag, nihilistic music snobs would love to hate.
I tell people they are better than The Beatles but most don’t listen. If it’s not blessed by a corporation or a trendy “indie” website, it’s just not legit. Cyanide Pills are neither, but they write better songs than you OR your favorite band, I don’t care who you are or what you like to listen to. I dare you to hear “Suicide Bomber” just once. It’s just not possible. Not since Elvis Costello have I heard such fantastic wordplay. And the hooks? Forget about it!
They have three studio albums now. The third — called Sliced and Diced — comes out in March. I was sent a preview link last week by their label, Damaged Goods, and I cannot stop listening to it. I feel so grateful to have been on the list that I figured I’d better write a review to at least attempt to earn the privilege. This band makes me excited about music again. Here are some thoughts on the new songs after a few listens (there are 18 of them, and not one is over three minutes long).
“I Don’t Remember”
I am impressed that the band is taking more aggressive stands on issues on this album. Earlier songs like “Suicide Bomber” and “Conquer the World” addressed serious topics but were very tongue-in-cheek. It was not easy to tell exactly where they stood on things (which was part of their charm), but they definitely came off as switched-on dudes who were paying attention to what is happening in the world, unlike most bands who, if they are political at all, base their politics on a particular political party. This song seems set in the future (or the past), asking if we remember what it was like before there was martial law in the streets. (Could be a response to Trump).”No I don’t” comes the answer. It’s a condemnation of apathy. A warning that there is still time to stand up, but that there won’t always be. Great opener, and super catchy.
“Stop And Search”
Another stand, this time against what we call “Stop and Frisk” here in America. This is a big Trump issue, he loves it. I wonder if the boys knew about that when they wrote this. It’s got a bit of a Black Flag vibe, and it’s about the cops so that’s fitting. Delightfully noisy. The most melodic thing here is the guitar solo. “The ones who say these tactics work, are the ones who never get stopped and searched.”
This was Cyanide Pills second album title. The song is an infectious rock and roll rant against “wars abroad,” “crap TV” and a shitty economy. The hook will stick with you. “Still bored!” Three in a row with anti-establishment messages. Never could happen on a corporate label. And there’s more!
“We destroy everything we touch. No one in the galaxy likes us much. We’re ‘The Earthlings!'” A bit of science fiction, fast and hard. They save the hook for the end, and the payoff is delicious. Full of meaning. This is how you do it, motherfuckers. Another extremely relevant song in the age of Trump.
The setting is a corporate meeting announcing a factory closure, and jobs going overseas for profit, “where we can work ’em hard and pay ’em low. We gotta let you go.” Anyone who has been fired or laid off will feel this one deeply. A powerful denunciation of capitalism as we know it today. Profits are king, workers be damned. “Sorry people.”
Could have been an 80s new wave hit. Reminds me of summer. Totally original, yet extremely pop, but not in a stupid kiddy pop-punk kinda way. Sounds like nothing else, as a good song shouldn’t. A bitter-sweet love song. A marriage-made-in-heaven of chorus lyric and melody. “I made a big mistake with you” could not have a better setting to music. The harmonies remind me of ’70s Foreigner. (It really sounds like Mick Jones is in there, and I don’t mean the cool one.)
I wouldn’t guess this is Cyanide Pills, but it is one of their catchiest songs. I can hear the Dee Dee influence. It’s a perfect song. An obvious homage to The Ramones. “I don’t wanna be alone tonight.” Lyrically in the vein of “Someone to Love” from their first album, and melodically a bit like a Ramones song that I can’t place. Like Joey Ramone, singer Phil Privilege is not afraid to be vulnerable. This just might be the highlight of the album for me.
This was on an EP that came out last year, but I like it much better in this context. “I pay the bills, I pay the rent, I pay my taxes and the money’s all spent. This fucking government is robbin’ me blind!” From the perspective of a minimum wage worker, not some pampered rock star in a mansion. It’s straight-up old-school rock and roll, but sandwiched on the record between two pop-punk gems it definitely jumps out.
“One Of The Boys”
This one already, after not even a week of listening to it, sounds so familiar. (And not because it’s a Mott the Hoople cover, because it’s not.) I noticed that with their second album. The music blends so well together, it’s so catchy and becomes a part of you that you feel like you’ve always known it. This is one of the songs that is having that effect on me. From the intro, I already feel like it’s an old friend coming ’round to say hello. I wouldn’t know right off-hand if it were from the first, second or third album. The Cyanide Pills are nothing if not consistent.
The title is not the name of the album, but the name of the album is in the chorus. The disparate melodies of the verse and chorus take you into completely different worlds, like a good song should. Your words are “like a razor blade, slicin’ and dicin’ my heart.” Very pop and romantic, with a blues-like lyrical theme, and more clever wordplay.
“No Strings Attached”
Phil P. may be romantic, but he also has a taste for it “cheap and nasty.” Nice contrasts as well between the pop songs and the more pentatonic, riff-based ones like this.
“Say You Will”
Lots of call-and-response between Phil and the band. “You’ve got that Stockholm Syndrome jive (Do, do you wanna) / Stay below decks or see the world outside (Do, do you wanna) / Unfurl your sails, grab your girls and your god (Do, do you wanna) / Abandon your post, this little town on the coast has nothin goin on.” Not the most melodic song by far, but damn original in both the lyric and melody departments. The guitar solo is perfect (like they all seem to be), and drummer Chris Wrist really gets to show his stuff on the outro.
“Cut Me Loose”
A Chuck Berry-flavored verse contrasts brilliantly with a riffy pop-punk chorus that only the Pills could write. Some nice modulations and an even better guitar solo. One thing about punk rock, there’s not a lot of great solos. But whichever guitar player plays lead in this band knows how to deliver a perfect melody for the song.
“Took Too Much”
A cute story about a bad trip. The verse melody matches the lyrics perfectly. Like if Sid and Marty Krofft played punk rock. The highlight is a chaotic breakdown with minimalistic guitar noises leading back into a highly rhythmic chorus, and again, a nice new and unexpected melodic hook ends the song.
“Under The Knife”
A hilarious song about a vasectomy. “Tomorrow I’ll be shooting blanks.”
This is definitive Cyanide Pills. In the vein of “Suicide Bomber” (which is how I first fell in love with this band), it takes an awful reality from war and turns it into a love song. Tons of wordplay. This is their songwriting craft is at its height. Super-smart, with humor, romance, and rock attitude. I’ve never heard anyone do anything like this. Most don’t even try. It’s the layers of detail hidden behind their fast, loose, and hard rock and roll delivery that make this band great. They ooze talent.
“In The Back Of A Car”
I once auditioned a singer who said if I wrote a one-note melody she’d have to change it. She clearly wouldn’t like this song, which does just that in the chorus. It’s a nice effect, and proves a one-note melody can be catchy, and is sometimes called for. I love that this band experiments with compositional devices. They are smarter than most songwriters, even apart from the lyrics.
“Waiting For You To Call Me)”
I’ve had a handful of these songs stuck in my head over the past few days, and tonight as I wrap this up, it’s this one. Great chorus, and impressive that after 17 strong songs, this is arguably the strongest. It’s incredible when a verse is so catchy that you can’t imagine the chorus will top it, and then when it does it’s the best feeling ever. Amazing bridge too, leading to another excellent guitar solo. A perfect song to end a perfect album.
The sign of a great songwriter is that each piece has its own unique flavor, and no two Cyanide Pills songs sound the same. They don’t re-hash. This album is as good as the last, which was as good as the first. They tour Europe in March and I’m jealous if you get to see them.