Photo Credit: Megan Thompson
As rock and roll approaches its seventh decade, one might imagine that there are fewer and fewer “firsts” to be claimed (i.e. first band to play a particular place, first group to record an album in such-and-such way, etc.). However, New York’s Bayside has probably clinched a unique rock first on their new album Interrobang. The opening cut – which also just happens to be the title track – has got to be the first song in rock history to ever combine a Shakespeare quote with a direct reference to Night Ranger’s 1984 hit “Sister Christian.”
The older song is actually name-dropped in the very first line of the lyrics, and then the second verse refers to “the winter of my discontent,” a paraphrase of the most famous line from, did you say “Macbeth?” (Sorry, it’s Richard III). Yet, this isn’t even the most pronounced contradiction presented by Bayside on this opening cut. The sound of the guitars and overall production on the song is unmistakable metal circa early-to-mid ’80s right from the initial riff. But before we have time for even a solitary head-bang, vocalist Anthony Raneri comes in with about the last voice you’d ever expect to hear on such a song.
Raneri’s voice expresses determination and sincerity (not to mention being on-key), yet sounds unmistakable nerdy, nasal-y and high. So much so, that many of the tunes on Interrobang makes one imagine a high school hard rock band who took pity on the awkward and shy class geek and let him come up on stage to sing a song with them at the big dance in hopes of winning favor with his unattainable crush (hey, the band does share a name with that of the school on Saved by the Bell).
Yet, if this were a sitcom, the feel-good ending might be that Raneri’s voice somehow fits with the band, and here in the real music world it still does. Rock history should remind everyone not to underestimate nerds. Buddy Holly was once considered by many to be a threat to Western civilization. However, punk-rooted elements – in the vein of bands like Fall Out Boy and Sum 41 – are also there, including the relative brevity of the songs (only one is longer than four minutes and seven of the titles are only one word), and do seem to become a bit more prevalent as we go through the record’s ten tracks.
Many of the lyrics on Interrobang utilize not just other clever and unexpected turns-of-phrase but also a surprising optimism: “We interrupt the regularly scheduled misery // To bring you the feeling that maybe we // Had more strength than we thought.” Still, at other times Bayside – or at least the song’s narrator – seem to fall victims to their own mixed message. “I learned to walk by falling first,” they sing on “Walk It Off” which sounds like a positive affirmation until heard it in context: “Shake it off and shut your mouth // Suck it up, make father proud // You’re not a man, go walk it off.”
Yet as Shakespeare’s witch characters once named off the ingredients in their cauldron recipe (and this is from Macbeth): “Eye of a newt, and toe of a frog // Wool of bat, and tongue of a dog” etc., Interrobang is also a concoction of varying elements which probably shouldn’t work together but somehow do. Musically, the band’s sound – be it metal, punk, or some weird-but-cool hybrid, also owes quite a bit to band member Jack O’Shea, who may be one of the best guitarists of his generation. Start-to-finish, Interrobang suggests that Bayside is a good side to be on.