PAVID VERMIN – Cutting Corners

Glenn Robinson is one of the great purveyors of Ramones influenced punk sounds. The Rhode Island musician was previously the drummer with The Prozacs but subsequently used his multi-instrumentalist’s skills to carve out a solo career. Each of his releases offers something to enjoy, but this third album by his “band project” Pavid Vermin (where Robinson plays everything) has the potential to be one of his best. What’s more, ‘Cutting Corners’ isn’t quite everything it appears to be on the surface. A quick look at the track listing suggests a punky romp through the songs from The Beatles’ classic ‘Abbey Road’, but behind the familiar titles lie seventeen of the purest, self-penned pop punk bangers, guaranteed to thrill fans of the style. Titles aside, no further credit goes to Lennon/McCartney.

‘Come Together’ kicks things off in style by hammering through a tune that has verses that could be interchanged with any of the best songs from the first two Ramones discs, before everything gets shaken up with a hard injection of rock ‘n’ roll via a harder riff before the chorus hits. The breakneck speed that the tune favours really sets the tone and pace for the next half an hour and with ‘Something’ paying homage to a dozen Screeching Weasel tunes by presenting a thrashy punk riff going all out and a repetitive lyric filling a whole minute, it’s clear that this Vermin’s punk intents are more than solid, before ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ presents the album’s first essential cut…and a true punk classic.

‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ takes McCartney’s story of the hammer used to kill people, but reinvents it in a more direct and less poetic fashion. In this tale, Max is a troubled lad who keeps a hammer in his shed which he uses to bludgeon people, having been influenced by ‘Hammer Smashed Face’ by Cannibal Corpse. By applying a threatening lyric to such a frivolous tune, name checking Cannibal Corpse in a way that can be used as a bizarre lyrical hook, having a middle eight that spells “hammer” to the tune of ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ and throwing in a Screeching Weasel inspired wurlitzer solo for good measure, this eighty seconds has everything. It’s nothing short of brilliant. Likewise, ‘Octopus’s Garden’ reaches the heights of ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ in terms of both catchiness and musicianship, as another straight up pop punk riff comes hard and fast, while a chorus that takes an “eight arms” motif and hammers it into your skull. The whole album is good to great, but this pair of tunes is a handy reminder of how Glenn Robinson is, perhaps, one of pop-punks most unsung heroes.

Changing the mood, ‘I Want You’ trades in pop punk for some good old power pop, dropping something that sounds like a typical Kurt Baker tune applied to a harder riff. The fusion of pop, punk and a touch of glam come together in great form and by the time the lead guitar break leads into the chorus for a second time, it has the presence and familiarity of a tune you’ve always known. ‘Here Comes The Sun’, meanwhile, applies plenty of bounce to a pop-punk mood that’s poppier than most. By injecting a touch of something that sounds like Scottish band The Rezillos and a furious surf guitar solo, it also avoids sounding too much like a quick rehash of any of the previous tracks. The first half of this release is so good: even ‘Oh! Darling’ – a track that doesn’t necessarily stand out on first listen – is actually decent enough punky workout. A definite Parasites influence cuts through and the bubblegum-ish chorus highlights Robinson’s love of retro pop – it just doesn’t have that extra gusto that the more purist Ramones lover would necessarily hope for.

The second half of the record presents some almost equally strong musical cuts, loosely based around titles borrowed from the legendary “Abbey Road Medley”. By way of a fifty seven second intro, ‘Because’ is a straight punk-pop frenzy of the purest Lookout! Records vintage, where Robinson applies a tight as hell set of chords to a simple and repetitious hook where the title takes the weight. For those looking for far more melody, the mood takes a total turn for ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ where the sharp and bouncy approach of the old skinny tie bands like The Knack gets transposed to a more modern pop-punk infused power pop. Huge harmony vocals collide with a riff that would have been a perfect fit for Billie Joe Armstrong during his Foxboro Hot Tubs sessions and the presence of a very 80s new wave lead guitar more than raises the feeling of good times. If that’s not enough, the frivolous chorus hook (‘Gimme gimme your money / I will treat it so lovely’), although fairly brainless, is guaranteed to stick in your head. This is definitely another of the album’s true standouts – a must-hear.

‘Sun King’ shifts the mood entirely at first, churning out an attitude filled riff that sounds as if it could turn into ‘Babylon’s Burning’ by The Ruts at any second. Unlike a few other great pop punk intros, it isn’t a red herring either, since Robinson uses it effectively throughout to link the more traditional punk and Ramonescore bits. The riff is the real attention grabber here, but mention must also be made of the chorus itself, since the repetitive jibe of “Who do you think you are?” proves incredibly infectious, while it’s secondary, rhetorical question “The king of the sun?!” is so ridiculous, you can’t help but love it. ‘Mean Mr. Mustard’ churns out a brilliant riff that sounds like a cross between an old Undertones hit and a Buzzcocks banger before delivering a chorus that focuses on Mustard’s unfavourable traits. While the music might stem from a 70s pop-punk 101 sketchbook, the lyrical hook that insists “he’s a dick” is sure to win a few new ears.

You might think it a tall order to write another song called ‘She Came In Through The Bathroom Window’, but Robinson comes up trumps on a tune that cranks a classic garage rock riff akin to the early Hives before dropping into a timeless punk verse. The introductory riff is used effectively to link the verses, but the track actually gets better when a muted riff is used as a middle eight to generate further excitement. Often sounding like a cartoonish piece of horror punk from the Groovie Ghoulies, this is one number that deserves to be played very loudly, before ‘Golden Slumbers’ brings everyone back to earth with a slow slab of Weezer derived power pop – all chiming power chords and faux grandiosity – but it’s fair to say that fans of the style will enjoy this late 60s homage. Pulling towards a big finish, ‘Carry That Weight’, packs a huge amount of energy into ninety two seconds by mixing the pop punk of Robinson’s solo works with a nod to the garage-based sounds of Foxboro Hottubs, all before dropping in a thrashier instrumental break and a coda that’s pure Ramones. It’s surprising how much can be achieved in such a short duration!

In closing, ‘The End’ flaunts more of Robinson’s power pop credentials by contrasting the record’s punky bias with a massive singalong number that pulls a huge amount of influence from early Weezer (ie: good Weezer) and Fountains of Wayne. Here, a more radio friendly edge proves very catchy and although its influences are hugely derivative, it’s a great song that shows the performer’s abilities to branch out. As with side one, there’s a lot of gold here, but there’s also one major sticking point. ‘Polythene Pam’ – situated somewhere around the halfway mark – offers some decent music. Robinson recycles some high octane pop-punk that’s very clearly inspired by at least six old Lookout bands and his ability to thrash out high spirited sounds in homage to The Queers and MTX is without question. Unfortunately, it’s marred by some incredibly lazy rhymes and also Robinson resorts to using the word “spastic” as an insult, as if he’s stuck in 1983. Ouch. [American punks: Please stop using this word and its even more derogatory slang variant, sp*z, in this way. It’s really not acceptable. It isn’t a handy catch-all replacement word for nerd, clumsy or stupid and it’s a word that’s far more loaded and offensive than you think. You’ve actually offended thousands of disabled people and you’ve done yourself no favours. You would never use racial slurs so casually.]

…And true to form in taking familiar Beatles titles and repurposing them in new and unexpected ways, the album’s coda, ‘Her Majesty’ isn’t a thirty second off cut but, perversely, a full-scale punker that manages to be longer than most of the songs on this album. This, of course, is likely a deliberate move. Those looking for much straighter Ramones pastiches will certainly not be disappointed with the punkier parts of the track in that it resembles at least six Joey and Johnny classics. Pavid Vermin takes that very familiar sound and mangles it with various atmospherics including droning keys and walls of feedback, but it’s an oppressive crash of instruments to finish that works most effectively…and especially so, since it comes to an abrupt end as if the needle has just lifted straight off the vinyl. A very late 60s trick – The Beatles would surely approve.

A massive lyrical faux pas aside, this is a brilliant record. Yes, it recycles a lot of very familiar pop punk sounds, but any listeners with even the vaguest interest in the genre’s history should not hesitate in giving this a listen. By taking familiar song titles as a jumping off point, this Pavid Vermin disc has managed to create something that’s both fun and imaginative, without ever resorting to pure novelty. Great stuff, indeed.

September/October 2020