It’s been a year since Jeff Rosenstock of Bomb The Music Industry! fame signed with SideOneDummy and released his biggest commercial record to date. With last year’s We Cool?, Jeff addressed various demons that internally affect him—the fear of getting old, the looming dread of failure, the continuing absence of friends and family, and the defeat in feeling alone. It’s a hyper-personal and painfully relatable record, one which forces the listener to confront their mental health as Jeff sings catchy punk-rock songs about his own.
His new record, WORRY., takes the introspection of We Cool? and flips it on its head, revealing the myriad causes of Jeff’s anxiety in the outside world. Through the epic 17-track record—the second half of which features an absurdly diverse and unequivocally successful medley of punk-rock styles and subgenres—Jeff laments about gentrification and rising rent costs in Brooklyn, the co-opting of punk rock culture for big bank-sponsored music festivals and fashion, police brutality, and the political landscape which allows for marginalization of the voiceless. WORRY. is a prime example of the album as a means of making a statement, one of the most fully-realized concept records in recent memory, and one of the best albums of 2016.
WORRY. opens with “We Begged 2 Explode,” a power ballad reminiscent of Billy Joel that might come off as parody if Jeff wasn’t so goddamn good at writing a song. Rosenstock croons over piano chords, slide guitar, and saxophone while introducing a split narrative that ultimately summarizes the thematic elements of the record. In the first verse, Jeff recalls a memory of his friend Laura (Stevenson, perhaps?) warning of the future in a direct transition from fear of change present in the lyrics of We Cool?: “This decade’s gonna be fucked. Friends will disappear after they fall in love and get married. Isn’t that shit like, crazy? The workin’, havin’ babies and promotions? The cheatin’, cryin’, leavin’ and divorcin’?” The second verse paints the image of one of Jeff’s shows, packed with fans, “on a weary floor that can’t support all of us, in a giddy haze and dancing carpet to dust.” The image of destruction plays into a theme which shows up throughout the track listing: There’s fear in the things we love.
Reportedly born out of Rosenstock’s desire to write a love album after marrying his long-time partner, WORRY. often deals with the joys and burdens of love. The bouncy “I Did Something Weird Last Night” tells the story of a first kiss and shows college student Jeff concerned with its significance and maintaining a long-distance relationship. Album highlight “Pash Rash,” which clocks in at under two minutes and features the album’s single catchiest vocal melody, deals with missing a significant other while out on tour: “The sky is always pitch black. When I sneak away, I only wanna come back and see your face again. I want to listen to The Cribs, my dear, while we make out in your car.”
Single “Wave Goodnight To Me” works even better in context, displaying displeasure with the state of affairs in Brooklyn as gentrification excludes locals and the cost of living continues to rise. It’s laden with rightfully bitter attacks at those taking advantage of a city that’s not rightfully theirs: “Wave goodnight to the sleepless city too tired to fight. They’re pushing you out in the name of progress and selling your memories to the tourists.” But ultimately it lands on the side of tragedy and regret. In the massive sing-along chorus that’s sure to be a highlight in the live setting, Jeff screams, “I wish it didn’t hurt, I wish I didn’t care. They spent the last five years yelling, ‘Come on, come on, come on, get out of here!’” This remorseful tone separates WORRY. from the standard political punk record, as Jeff’s not rallying the troops to fight back. He doesn’t know what to do about the collapsing world around him, and he just wishes he could have done something about it before it was too late.
While the first half of WORRY. is full of some of Rosenstock’s career-best songs, and could stand as a worthy follow-up to We Cool? with two or three more songs of similar quality tacked on at the end, Rosenstock cements his status as a living D.I.Y. punk legend with the final nine tracks. The second half of the record—the stretch of songs from “Blast Damage Days” through “Perfect Sound Whenever”—is an Abbey Road-esque medley that jumps sporadically from genre to genre with perfect poise. In the outro of the distorted, lo-fi, rock ’n’ roll track “Blast Damage Days,” Jeff promises that “There’s no fucking way I’m ever letting go of you” throughout the “era of hate and military police,” as “our towns fall to the ground.” And just as the track ends, “Bang On The Door” begins, a hyper-caffeinated pop-punk song straight out of the Descendents playbook that reiterates his fear of missing rent: “I’m tired of the constant fear of building something here when I know for sure they’ll leave us high and dry without thinking twice when we can’t pay more.” Within three minutes, Jeff blasts economic disparity in the unabashed ska song “Rainbow” and screams his face off on the jaw-dropping hardcore punk movement “Planet Luxury.” “June 21st” curses seasonal depression and revels in the temperate weather of early summer in New York, and “The Fuzz” slows things down over a simple electronic beat to speak out against police brutality and the lack of political action against it: “I can’t stand feeling violent but it’s hard not to sometimes, when the innocent get slaughtered and the guilty get a fine.” As the medley begins drawing to close with “…While You’re Alive,” Jeff perfectly punctuates the difficulty of careless love for a significant other in an era of such pain and aggression: “Love is worry.”
WORRY. is a masterful concept record that’s endlessly engaging and never backs down from its bold stance. Jeff Rosenstock proved himself long ago as a name revered in the basement punk scene, but WORRY. is a true musical accomplishment that shatters ceilings and demands DIY punk be taken seriously. Just as the baby boomers praised Bruce Springsteen for giving a voice to the blue collar workers with Born To Run, Rosenstock deserves praise crafting a phenomenal record that speaks up for the disenfranchised and spits on the establishment in 2016.