NoMeansNo: Wrong (pt. 1)

wrong

Dear Matthew:

I promised you that this project would involve you listening to some punk rock. The time has come. But fear not — I’m going to ease you into it. This week, you’ll be listening to NoMeansNo‘s seminal 1989 opus, Wrong.

It’s actually kind of hilarious that I’m using the word ‘ease’ in the same paragraph as NoMeansNo; they’re about the most challenging punk rock band I can think of. They’re mathy and jazzy and even sometimes a little proggy — words that are kind of hilarious to find in the same paragraph as ‘punk rock’ — but they’re also thrashy and angry and they infuse everything they do with an absolutely pitch-black sense of humour. So, the way I see it, they’re built on the bedrock of everything that’s great about punk rock, but they approach it with — well, with an approach to the craft that you’ll find more palatable.

At its core, NoMeansNo is the brothers Rob and John Wright, on bass/vocals and drums respectively. The pair from Victoria, BC, though the band is now based in Vancouver. Over the years, guitar and backup vocal duties have been handled by Andy Kerr (as they are on Wrong), and later by Tom Holliston, but unlike most punk rock, the guitar is mostly just flavour; Rob is definitely the frontman, his basslines always the musical main-mast. Live, the three play side by side on stage — with John facing Rob, so the audience gets a good look at John’s playing.

Here’s another thing about NoMeansNo: they’re old. Like, I’m pretty sure they’re older than my dad. That said, they continue to rock harder than any band of their vintage that you care to name, and they’re still putting out good records; 2006’s All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt is in a dead heat with Wrong for my favourite of theirs. I mean, I guess when you’re a band for 36 years, you get pretty good at playing with each other, but these guys all had the chops from the beginning — and they can still shred every lick just as hard as the day it was recorded. In case I haven’t made myself clear: if you get an opportunity to see them play, take it. I only hope I can rock half that hard when I’m that old.

Wrong itself is interesting for a lot of reasons. For one, the title is probably the clearest example of the ‘(W)right’/’wrong’-based wordplay in which in the band frequently engages. Rob was recovering from vocal chord nodules at the time, so it’s atypical in that it features a lot of vocals from then-guitarist Kerr. It’s also probably the best cross-section of the various things the band is capable of musically. There are short, old-school punk rock rippers like ‘Two Lips, Two Lungs and One Tongue’; sludgy, sprawling epics like the album closer ‘I Am Wrong’; and whatever you’d call the madness that is ‘Big Dick’. Wrong is all over the map, and I love it.

If you can’t get into punk rock, then hey, you can’t get into punk rock. I know it’s not for everyone. But for a man of your particular tastes, this is the best possible gateway drug I can think of. If this doesn’t work, I don’t know if anything will.

— Matt

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