Are We Not Men? We Are Diva! is the first Me First and the Gimme Gimmes release in which the band’s chosen stylistic theme simply doesn’t lend itself to punk-rock dynamics. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the album’s track selection, but the band fails to bridge these two genres — mostly female-fronted pop, and traditional punk-rock — with the same finesse they usually possess.
Granted, the Gimmes’ dabbling in other genres and musical eras has been nondiscriminatory. From R&B to an EP comprised entirely of Japanese songs — Japanese singing included — the long-running covers band has amassed a truly eclectic body of work. For nearly 20 years, the magic of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes has been in their ability to reveal the crossover between punk rock and other genres. 2006’s Love Their Country was a peak in that ability; its themes of rebellion and blue-collar living were relatable and should have given even the most snobbish punk-rock purists a newfound appreciation for The Eagles and The Dixie Chicks.
Diva — the followup to the Gimmes’ pair of “world” EPs and the first full-length of newly recorded material since Love Their Country — is an album that relishes in its novelty instead of thriving in unfamiliarity. There may in fact be a way to reconstruct Cher’s “Believe” as a solid punk-rock song, but the band doesn’t come close to achieving it; The Gimmes’ version is comparable to an above-average karaoke rendition at best. Spike Slawson is a capable singer, but there’s hollowness and disinterest in his voice, which may have been the result of his obligation to adopt less-than-stellar lyrics. And matching the original recording’s Auto-Tune placement is initially amusing, but it doesn’t make for a song with lasting replay value.
Diva works well in some surprising places. The Gimmes’ concise rendition of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” lacks the forgettable qualities of the album’s weaker tracks, and Fat Mike’s backing vocals are appropriately off-key and lively. “My Heart Will Go On” has a neat acoustic and accordion arrangement. And “Speechless” attaches the intro from The Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer” to a song penned by Lady Gaga, modifying the pop ballad’s dynamics but keeping its basic structure.
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes previously made songs their own by shaping them in such a way that it didn’t matter whether or not one was familiar with the original recordings. Too many of Diva’s most recognizable songs are cheesy gimmicks. Meanwhile, several others — especially if divorced from their pop-song foundations — make for plain, lackluster punk-rock songs. There are a few worthwhile takes on Diva, but for the most part,Me First and the Gimme Gimmes’ better work is eight years behind them.
Are We Not Men? We Are Diva! is available today via Fat Wreck Chords.
Review by Anthony Glaser