Ska Punk is such a carefree, eff-it genre that one can forget the most creative acts can hide the deepest pains. It comes as a surprise that the opening song of the newly released The Knife by Goldfinger opens with a lamentation on how the music scene has changed since members John Feldmann, Travis Barker and company made their debuts in the mid-’90s. But, at the same time, it is completely understandable; after all, this is the time of Lil Peep, Tyler the Creator, and Pink Guy putting a sense of existential dread that can be cut with a knife in their music, but still leaving it at allusion, who else is going to put it into direct words other than punk musicians?
It’s been 16 years since Goldfinger’s bombastic cover of (one of the best songs ever written), “99 Red Balloons”. Things made sense back then — a time where Alien Ant Farm could enjoy success. Sigh, to be young again. That is, in essence, where Feldmann is singing from on the opening song, “A Million Miles.” With the familiar sounding machine gun drum roll catapulting the listener into that specific vibe of kicking and screaming in the mosh pit next to fellow sweaty skinny-jean clad burnouts, screams out yet again. But, wait; the lyrics give the angst a sense of panic that injects urgency into the non-conformity. “Where did my life go? / I just can’t hold it back no more.” This sentiment is fleshed out on “Get What I Need,” dating Goldfinger’s trashy youth as thirty years ago and instead of a forlorn pain, there is the warm optimism that ska horns deliver best. Worried about getting older? “Someday you’ll find everything will be alright.” Here lies a mature way of dealing with personal problems, taking a left turn at despair and instead allowing the qualms to shift to, really, more entertaining ones. And, it makes The Knife all the more fun and unique because of it.
“Am I Deaf” is the first turning point of the album, staking Goldfinger’s claim squarely in the middle of aging punkster that doesn’t get today’s music. The song is chock full of complaints about short attention spans and phone obsessions. Except, the song contains self-awareness that Feldmann sounds just like his father. It allows the song to go from cranky old guy complaining bitterly to a friendly teasing from the rebels of the last generation. After all, just listen to the drums and horns on each of these songs. These old folks still got it.
That, of course, doesn’t stop The Knife from treading familiar ground where the sound is pretty content in staying with what already works for most of the album. “Put The Knife Away” and “Who’s Laughing Now” though, are examples of the lyrical depth that make the journey of life one that remains conflicted with a unique point of view, but shines by combating that conflict with badass optimism.
“Say It Out Loud” is the second turning point that not only returns to that feel, but does so with a refined school dance alt groove. It breaks from the by-the-book pop-punk whoa’s and distortion to transform into a just so slightly retro dance party. And then there’s the comical “Orthodontist Girl” that harkens back to the randomly specific silly love songs of “She Has a Girlfriend Now,” “Alternative Girl” Reel Big Fish fame that do the genre proud. With the old guy complaints still in mind, the image of Feldmann, the aging punk boy falling in love with his orthodontist, worrying about the weirdness of tongue on finger action, makes The Knife lovable in addition to relatable. And when that unabashed love delivers itself to “Milla,” the last song on the album, it becomes clear; the ultimate gift of being middle aged is the freedom to simply love without reservation, without any sense of irony. It allows young people who listen to this album to move past the first reaction of “screw you old man,” to relating to Feldmann’s lyricism, to finally feeling hope that they will feel this kind of love one day.