Volunteer pick album review: Wrong by NoMeansNo

Maureen Thacker, Volunteer DJ

Only sheep need a leader – How three randos from Canada created the greatest punk album you’ve (probably) never heard of.

“Hear the angels sing!

This is the end of all things!”

Punk is one of the most iconic musical phenomenons of the 20th century. This iteration (or, according to some, rejection) of seventies hard rock spawned the hardcore movement, spearheaded by bands such as Black Flag, Descendents, and MDC. Hardcore itself has spawned multiple subgenres, including emo/emotional hardcore (Cap’n Jazz, Rites of Spring, Sunny Day Real Estate, The Brave Little Abacus), grindcore (Napalm Death, Pig Destroyer, Discordance Axis), and post-hardcore (At the Drive-In, Fugazi, and the mighty NoMeansNo). 

NoMeansNo started as a simple punk rock band in the late seventies. Forming in Victoria, British Columbia between two brothers who wanted to play fast punk tunes, they later relocated to Vancouver and added guitarist Andy Kerr to the lineup, releasing a couple of albums (1986’s Sex Mad and 1988’s Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed, both released on Alternative Tentacles in the States and the United Kingdom) before completely reforming punk with their magnum opus, Wrong.

Right off the bat, you can tell that the Wright brothers and Mr. Kerr mean business, with the extremely technical drum and bass playing of the opener, It’s Catching Up.  And what a way to open an album. The complex riffs and grooves of the bass guitar and drums almost resemble those of skilled jazz players, and it’s no surprise that this album has gone on since its release to inspire the punk-jazz and math rock movements. The chorus “It’s catching up! I’m f***ed!” is repeated several times, and the delivery of those lines alone makes it feel like you’re trying to escape someone hot on your trail, not to mention the sinister instrumental it’s being played over.

Soon after, NoMeansNo switches to a slower song (well, slow for NoMeansNo), but not one that sacrifices quality, called The Tower. It’s a slow burn, and not a track that many people will appreciate much on first listen. The cryptic lyricism paired with the drudging instrumental leaves for a unique listening experience.

And then when you least expect it, The Tower ends, and in comes the short but sweet (mostly) instrumental Brainless Wonder. This track is an easy highlight for me, and despite only being about a minute and thirty seconds, does not feel too short. The raging guitar licks, funky basslines, and fierce drumming complement each other fantastically, and the bass breakdown a la King Crimson in the middle of the track is absolutely nasty.

Afterward, we have two short tracks called Tired of Waiting and Stocktaking. There’s not much I can say about this stretch of songs, other than they’re extremely groovy examples of NoMeansNo owning up to their technical infamy (plus the line “I got tired of waiting because I find out there’s only a very, very fine line between biding one’s time and wasting one’s time” is extremely clever!). Some who have listened to this album consider them to be “filler” tracks, but I think they are a perfect transition into the last track on side one, The End of All Things.

Joined by Danielle Gagnier on vocals, NoMeansNo creates a fiery explosion of apocalyptic punk, both lyrically and sonically. The themes of the end times are ever prevalent in this song, and the grooves are just as present. With the piercing vocals from Ms. Gagnier, I wouldn’t be surprised if this track directly influenced Squid’s song Narrator. An excellent conclusion to side one!

“I am married to a cigarette butt, lying in the gutter.”

So how will NoMeansNo succeed in topping themselves on side two? Is it even possible to get better than side one? The answer is: yes, and so much more.

Side two opens with a bassline as filthy as its song title, Big Dick. The humor of the track is enough to make you laugh out loud, from the infectiously absurd chorus (“come quick, Big Dick!”) to the goofy parody of macho suave ladies’ men (“what’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?”). It’s a fan favorite of NoMeansNo aficionados and for good reason.

Next in the tracklist, we have another quick song clocking in at under two minutes, Two Lips, Two Lungs, and One Tongue. It’s a fast-paced little ditty; intense, thrashy, and just makes you wanna bang your head. It’s also a superb transition from Big Dick to the next song.

Rags and Bones is quite possibly the most tongue-in-cheek song in the entire tracklist, and that’s saying something considering the witty and insightful lyricism throughout the rest of the album. It starts off with the Wright brothers mocking American vernacular (“Hunker down y’all!” “Yeehaw!”) and later includes the line, “White man, you… you just starting to get the blues,” which could be perceived as a critique of racial tensions in America at the time. The song is brilliant, has a funky chorus (“RaAaAaAaAaAags and BoOoOones!”), and has a breakdown that sounds almost exactly like Primus, despite the band still being in its infancy!

Next up is quite possibly my favorite on the album, Oh No, Bruno! This song is completely killer and has everything you want in a NoMeansNo song: witty lyrics, super technical drum, and bass playing, fast and crunchy guitars, and more post-hardcore goodness. It’s the perfect penultimate track, leading up to the six-minute closer, All Lies.

All Lies is a lumbering beast of a final track. The lyrics are just as cutthroat as the rest of the album (“It was all lies! All lies! It was all lies! Why don’t you f*** off and die?”), and the slower tempo of the song gives it an advantage to somehow being even more hard-hitting than a track such as The Tower. The instrumental is heavy as ever, and the Wright brothers’ vocals are just as loud and angry as they were on The Tower. A perfect conclusion to a perfect album.

While obviously not being the most famous punk album of all time, it’s definitely become one of the most critically acclaimed punk albums of any kind in recent years due to sites such as RateYourMusic and AllMusic. Internet music circles have also caught on in the past decade, with the YouTube rip of the album amassing over 1.4 million views. The recognition is long overdue, and while not most people’s number one choice, is my favorite punk album ever made.

Score: 5/5 sails (Flawless)