Happy 35th Anniversary to X’s fourth studio album More Fun in the New World, originally released in September 1983 (specific release date N/A).
Imagine if Woody Guthrie recorded a punk album in the midst of Reagan era America. The results would most likely sound like X’s 1983 release More Fun in the New World, their fourth and last record produced by Ray Manzerak. Unfortunately, it was their last LP that would stay true to their punk roots. Their previous three releases (1980’s Los Angeles, 1981’s Wild Gift and 1982’s Under the Big Black Sun) gave us tales of a darker side of Los Angeles that was more Tom Waits and less Hollywood.
Along with The Germs, Black Flag and The Circle Jerks, X stood out amongst a sea of Southern California punk bands who had to constantly play gigs to get their music heard. Except for college radio and KROQ, punk had no home on the airwaves. This did not deter X from improving with each album release.
More Fun in the New World incorporates a rockabilly sound mixed in with insightful sociopolitical commentary to give X the best album in their catalog. The album starts off with the folky, brilliant and still relevant “The New World,” a razor-sharp rebuke of Ronald Reagan’s presidency without even mentioning his name. Writer Michael H. Little once called the song “a savage spit in the eye of false promises—the only promises politicians make—and one of punk’s great protest songs.” If you’ve read a newspaper or watched the news at any point in the last couple of years, then you know how important and applicable this song is to today’s America.
It was better before, before they voted for What's-His-Name / This was supposed to be the new world / It was better before, before they voted for What's-His-Name / This was supposed to be the new world.
Like “The New World,” “We’re Having Much More Fun” features Exene Cervenka and bassist John Doe sharing lead vocals with excellent guitar work from Billy Zoom. It’s a tale of the seedier side of Los Angeles as only X could tell it. Their delivery is so compelling, you could imagine yourself sweating and boozing it up very late into the evening on a hot summer night.
In the hallways upstairs / Everyone hangs out the doors / And the silhouettes act obscene / Across from where we stay / We're having much more fun / You don't know where we've gone
“True Love” and “Poor Little Girl” are tales of the not-so-sweet-and-tender sides of love and romance. Cervenka and Doe, who were married at the time, took turns singing lead, with Cervenka taking on the former. She describes true love as the “the devil’s crowbar,” leading us to believe that she might have been better off not knowing what true love really is.
“Poor Little Girl” is Doe’s take on a relationship in which he can’t seem to do anything right and can’t figure out the source of his partner’s sadness. The guitar work of Zoom and drumming of D.J. Bonebrake is reminiscent of a sound you’d hear in a Bo Diddley song.
“Make the Music Go Bang” and “Breathless” are welcome returns to X’s uptempo sounds, with the latter standing out as one of the album’s highlights. With its cranked-up tempo and spot-on vocals by Cervenka, X’s cover of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Breathless” is hands down the best version of the song. The song begs to be played as loud as possible.
“I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” is a personal favorite of mine and maybe the only song I know of that addresses America’s sketchy foreign policy and lack of airplay for punk bands on the radio. Somehow, Doe and Cervenka make it work.
I’m guilty of murder of innocent men / Innocent women, innocent children, thousands of them / My planes, my guns, my money, my soldiers / My blood on my hands it’s all my fault.
They also manage to work in a reference to Woody Guthrie, who, they remind us, “sang about B-E-E-T-S, not B-E-A-T-S.” It’s one of the best songs of any genre from this era.
“Devil Doll,” ”Painting the Town Blue,” and “Hot House” bring the album back to a style more reminiscent of their previous releases and show off the underrated songwriting of Cervenka and Doe. Each of these songs is vastly different from each other but convey a sense of pathos without losing their edge. It’s great storytelling without the sappiness of a classic country music song. “Drunk in My Past,” if sung by any other classic rock outfit, would be just another song. The vocal style of Doe and Cervenka makes this song work so well.
“I See Red” is a fun and manic blast of punk rock at its best. It speeds along at a breakneck pace, not quite out of control. As you’re listening, you constantly wonder how it’s going to end and then suddenly you hear the sound of what might be hubcaps falling off of a car.
The LP ends with “True Love (Part 2),” a track that sounds nothing like anything else X had done until this point. The opening guitar riff sounds a lot like the opening from the Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Running.” I know, it sounds crazy even saying that out loud. The song is a funk influenced number that pays homage to American music, name checking song lyrics from a diverse array of artists (Curtis Mayfield, Tammy Wynette, James Brown, The Clash and Wilson Pickett to name a few). It’s a fun, stream of consciousness track that does not take itself too seriously, and neither should you.
This sadly marked the end of the punk period of the band’s career. X had a four-year, four album run of creative excellence that stood them far apart from their punk contemporaries. They capped it off with this classic which never got much airplay. They were never going to be a mainstream outfit and I’m not sure if they were okay with that.
With the way things are going today, bands like X are sorely missed and needed. Since I don’t see anything like them on the horizon, the original will do just fine. More Fun in the New World is a criminally overlooked classic that deserves and needs to be heard…at full blast.