Long-awaited reunion results in legacy-building record
For a year already filled with its fair share of early 2000s reunions, the return of pop-punk trio Ultimate Fakebook is both unexpected and extraordinary. 16 years since their last studio release, the band released their latest LP, The Preserving Machine, with new label Sonic Ritual Recordings on April 10, 2020.
While pop-punk has often been dubbed generic and bland, Ultimate Fakebook is anything but. After touring with big guns like Motion City Soundtrack and The Get Up Kids in their heyday, it is baffling how they remained the scene’s best-kept secret. The Preserving Machine was well worth the wait. Rather than tarnishing the legacy of their already solid pre-split work, this album builds upon it and even strengthens it.
Kicking off with “Javea,” a quick instrumental introduction infused with electronic elements, it’s clear this is all the best parts of old Ultimate Facebook modernized and expanded. The opener is followed by the two singles, “We’re Sharing the Same Dream Tonight” and “After Hours At Melin’s,” both of which are drenched in nostalgia and utilize pop punk’s greatest tropes.
It’s the other eight tracks that give The Preserving Machine its weight though. “Sad Soldier” is uncannily timely with lyrics like: “we can’t wait until it’s over/ can’t afford to close our eyes today/ common sense is a little sad soldier.” Using overlapping vocal harmonies, intricate piano work and dark guitar tones, the song is ear-catching and begging for repeat listens.
In an ode to their hometown, “Manhattan KS,” vocalist Bill McShane introduces his surprisingly strong falsetto, flipping between that and chest voice nearly seamlessly. The technique he exhibits throughout the record sets him, and consequently Ultimate Fakebook, apart from other bands from this scene.
It’s “Juliet’s Fools,” however, that is one of the greatest gems on The Preserving Machine. Following genre precedent, this is the album’s obligatory ballad but it is taken to a new degree. Rather than lamenting about straightforward heartbreak, McShane sings about fantasies and the girls who never noticed him in high school. While this is yet another pop-punk trope, Ultimate Fakebook has found a way to frame it as charming, using detailed lyricism, musical dissonance and a challenging vocal part. When McShane sings, “Shakespeare knew that star crossed love was doomed And Juliet’s are myths we buy into,” hearts really do “break so slow.”
Closing track, “Fake ID,” may be the only song more impressive. Shockingly honest lyricism combined with alternating musical tonality, this track is a six-minute summation of everything that’s led Ultimate Fakebook to this point. “There’s no rock and roll in my veins/ just vessels filled with songs of rage/ and those memories and a fake ID/ whose picture slowly starts to fade/ away,” McShane sings. Feeling more like an explanation of all those years away than an apology, this song blends nostalgia with the incredibly sad reality of growing older. While the rest of the record seems aimed at ‘90s kids’ melancholy, this is the one song that feels timeless.
After a release as strong as The Preserving Machine, it is bewildering that Ultimate Fakebook managed to stay under the radar for all these years. Gaining traction alongside some of pop-punk, emo and alternative rock’s biggest bands, Ultimate Fakebook should have broken into the mainstream; they still should.
Breaking up right before the apex of scene music, when bands like Fall Out Boy were releasing From Under the Cork Tree, probably hindered their success. That doesn’t mean Ultimate Fakebook lacks the self-awareness or ability of these big-name acts. It’s actually quite the contrary. With lines like, “well, I’m 45 and still alive/ what do you want me to say?” from “My Music Industry,” a meta song all about modern music production, it’s impossible to fail to recognize the personality and uniqueness of this band.
Lucky for the band and listeners alike, 2020 appears to be the year pop punk makes a resurgence. The Preserving Machine is an incredible record in and of itself, but coming from long lost underrated greats Ultimate Fakebook, it feels like the return to form everyone could use right about now.