Pkew Pkew Pkew's 'Open Bar' Is a Bit of a Dive
Published May 12, 2022Pkew Pkew Pkew won over listeners with their everyman personalities and apathetic outlook, singing about working terrible day jobs, growing older and burning out, but also about drinking with friends, skateboarding and passing out on the couch — often within the same songs. Despite their literal lyricism and a catalogue full of tracks with offbeat titles ("Let's Order A Pizza," "I Wanna See a Wolf,'' etc.), there's always been a remarkable amount of nuance and clear-eyed aphorisms baked into their songwriting.
New album Open Bar, however, feels like a step backward from the Toronto band after making a lot of headway in the span between their first two albums. On their 2016 self-titled debut, those deeper complexities were mostly hinted at, and it wasn't until 2019's Optimal Lifestyles that the band fully opened up on an emotional level, revealing the personal struggles and sources of the band's reckless, self-destructive antics.
On Open Bar, lyrics contain many pointed callouts to the targets of millennial anguish, but they aren't as clearly defined or explored as on past works. Similarly, many of the mature themes surrounding the band's own candid outlook on their lifestyles and the self-examination of their faults and limitations are also absent, making for a record ultimately devoid of any emotional range.
Nowhere is this better exemplified than on the album's opening track "Let the Bridges We Burn Light the Way,'' which contains a stanza about "rich kids" cleaning up after the band parties through town and locking their doors out of fear. Before further expansion on class politics, the lyrics pivot entirely to throwaway party fanfare: "We came, we saw, we conquered and we won't back down." The songwriting doesn't get much better on tracks like "Safety Last," "A Different Jimmy," and "Stick To Your Guns, Pookie," which, outside their upbeat twin-guitar-and-clashing-drum instrumentals, head down similar paths with an emphasis on forgettable, shouted gang-vocals and big choruses that aim to be anthemic, but mostly fall flat.
The handful of stronger tracks are outnumbered and flanked on all sides by middling ones. "It's half the rent, twice the suffering," vocalist Mike Warne sings on "Maybe Someday," a song chronicling the period in the band's early history when he and guitarist Ryan McKinley moved in together to save money. It's one of the rare, more engaging narratives explored in the tracklist, exploring not only the need for personal boundaries, but also issues of unaffordable housing.
Elsewhere, "Fresh Pope" — which sees the band rally around the announcement of a new pontiff — is a simple yet unironically hilarious tune with lyrics like, "We got a fresh Pope! / Blast out the white smoke!" These songs, and a few others like them ("Drinking in the Park" and "Mr. Meowers") manage to succeed, but are burdened doing all the heavy lifting.
On the production side of things, Pkew Pkew Pkew smoothen out their guitar fuzz and DIY charm for a tighter, more polished tone when it comes to their instrumentation this time around. Additionally, synths, trumpets, and glockenspiels make appearances throughout Open Bar's 11 tracks, and the band lean into poppier melodies ("Young Pro") and funkier ones, too ("Mom's Dime"). It's a big contrast from the frantic, in-your-face sound of the band's earlier material — all the more interesting considering their reunion with producer Jon Drew, who helmed their self-titled debut.
There's not much here that Pkew Pkew Pkew haven't already done before to better results. Open Bar misses the mark more often than it hits, and feels like regression from a band that 'grew up' on their last record. Unlike prior occasions, an eager return for more rounds is not on tap. (Dine Alone)