With their final album, The Party’s Over, released five years after the band actually broke up, the Smoking Popes throw one last log into the fire, a giant final burst of flame proving why this Chicago punk band has attracted such a cult following. With The Party’s Over, it’s clear that the band’s appreciation for many great artists, an appreciation that leads them to embody varied sounds, tastes and qualities, has probably made them such a great punk-pop band. All that, and Josh Caterer’s smooth baritone voice, a one-of-a-kind old-time lounge act style over otherwise familiar loud guitars, carries the album from one distinct track to the next.
This album, released in conjunction with Tribute: A Compilation Chronicling the Smoking Popes, is in many ways a tribute itself to past generations of musical talent. “Bewitched,” originally done by Rodgers and Hart, with Caterer’s smooth voice and Matt Caterer’s haunting bass, proves to be more beguiling and bewitching than the original. Their slightly more raucous version of “Party’s Over,” originally sung by Judy Garland, does not lose in its punk sound the sadness and emotion that was originally installed in the song by Garland. The Smoking Popes take the song for themselves, and through the quality drum work and solid guitar, and the excellent composition, the idea that we must realize that for the Smoking Popes, the Party is over, takes on an ironical and sad note.
The whole album is strong, but the knowledge that the party for the Smoking Popes was over adds a bitter sweet note to the already temporal, contemplative and nostalgic songs. This album is not only a nostalgia for a quality band that is no more, but moreover, for the inherent temporal nature of music, with the knowledge that some can live on beyond the party.
Though they may live on beyond the party, it may not necessarily be because of the tribute album, though it is a fun nostalgic romp through some of the Popes’ past songs. Some are considerably better than others. Retro Morning, lacking the uniting force of Caterer’s vocals, is a little weak on “Need You Around,” and ultimately their rendition has no cohesive force and is exhausting to listen to the drums, guitars and vocals compete. Grade is also a little lack-luster in their angry rendition of “Days Just Wave Good-bye.” Saturday Supercade’s take on “I Love You Paul” is also a little Greenday punkish with a somewhat pop sound.
Tribute does have a few good tributes in their own right. Mike Felumlee, the original drummer of Smoking Popes, arrives with his own rendition of “Don’t Be Afraid,” which is solid. His voice is a little soft, but it retains the quality of his former band. Duvall, the current rock upstart, fronted by Josh Caterer with Eli Caterer on bass, gives an appropriately Popes rendition of their own “Do Something.” Bad Astronaut has a tender cover of “Megan.” The opening bars pitch perfect into the organization of the song, wallowing perfectly between raucous guitar and high-beat drums to soft piano chords. Blue Shade Witness does an almost superior job of “Mrs. You and Me.” But the style is a Popes signature. Ataris complete the album with “Pretty Pathetic,” a feeling ballad, with piano and vocals almost to the quality of Caterer intermixing classical piano with young lovers angst.
But what the tribute record shows, as well as The Party’s Over, is that the influence of the Smoking Popes clearly extends beyond the punk rock scene of the ’90s. After listening to these two albums, I couldn’t help but think that the party is actually not quite over.