The Lawrence Arms – ‘We Are The Champions of the World’

By Tom Walsh

The Lawrence Arms are here to take you on a tour. They’re here to take you by the hand and travel the snow-covered streets of Chicago with tales of the city’s staple punk band ringing in your ears. Along the way, you’ll hear the anecdotes the trio have been regaling us for the past two decades before we warm up in that inviting dive bar.

There was a tinge of disappointment when news of The Lawrence Arms’ return was in the form of a greatest hits album but ‘We Are The Champions of the World’ is more of a celebration of a band that insists it has never written a “hit” in their lives. This 29-song best-of collection helps to chronicle the lifespan of these three friends creating the sharpest songs this genre has to offer.

From the low-fi, gritty thrash of the ‘A Guided Tour of Chicago’ days with ‘The Northside, the L&L, and Any Number of Crappy Apartments’ to the polished anthems of ‘Oh! Calcutta!’ such as ‘Are You There Margaret? It’s Me, God’ and ‘Great Lakes/Great Escapes’ – The Lawrence Arms demonstrate how they have emerged from the dive bars to become cult favourites among the punk community.

The tracklisting is delightfully arranged with the various eras of the band’s life lying side by side as ‘Apathy and Exhaustion’s’ ‘Right as Rain Part 2’ leads into the heartbreakingly introspective ‘Seventeener (17th and 37th)’ from most recent effort ‘Metropole’. These two moments highlight the juxtaposition of both Chris McCaughan and Brendan Kelly’s songwriting and delivery. While McCaughan offers a love letter in trademark dulcet tones, Kelly provides a poignant moment of soul searching as he questions his own mortality in that signature gruff voice. This combination has always been the bedrock of The Lawrence Arms’ appeal and their ability to gain inspiration from literary and pop culture has made them mainstays of the scene.

It’s the way they are able to weave tales of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov into three minutes of chaotic punk that sets them apart from their contemporaries. It works even better when it is paired against a song about getting drunk at a friend’s wedding and receiving a lifetime ban from Warped Tour.

Kelly was keen to stress that the songs selected for ‘We Are Champions of the World’ are meant to demonstrate the journey the band has been on rather than their most successful songs. It has resulted in a number of underappreciated album tracks making the grade. There is the shattering ‘Turnstiles’, a dip into the EP ‘Buttsweat and Tears’ to pick out the beautiful ‘The Slowest Drink at the Saddest Bar on the Snowiest Day’ and even a re-imagining of the ‘Oh! Calcutta!’ closer of ‘Warped Summer Extravaganza (Turbo Excellent).

Fans looking for new material will not be disappointed as The Lawrence Arms snap open the vault and dig out some previously unreleased tracks from their 2006 album. This, despite them being sat away for the best part of 12 years, adds a little freshness to the record and even whets the appetite for the possibility of new material in the future. ‘We Are Champions of the World’ provides that blissful stroll along a snow-coated memory lane and we can only wish that this tour with The Lawrence Arms goes on for a little longer.

TOM WALSH

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