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Old And All Alone: A 20th Anniversary MxPx Retrospective.

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MxPx has now been together for 20 years. You are as insanely old as that first sentence would suggest. When did you stop listening to MxPx? 1996? 1999? They have never stopped putting out albums. They just put out an album in April! And they've been together for 20 frigging years. Minor Threat was together for three years. Black Flag and the frigging Clash were together for 10 years.

In the year 2012, more contemporary punk bands will readily cite MxPx as an influence than any of the above bands. One of those triplets from Good Charlotte had an MxPx tattoo when Good Charlotte's first album came out. You know their first album. The one that had cover art that looked like a rejected Sugar Ray concept.

20 years is a long damn time to be listening to any band. It's probably about 500 times too long to be listening to MxPx. But I have been. Now I realize it's been so I can bring you a comprehensive MxPx retrospective. I guess everyone has a calling. Or maybe it's just God's plan. lol sike

If you've never heard of MxPx, you may not want to hit the jump. If you have heard of MxPx, you definitely don't want to hit the jump.

1994 - Pokinatcha!

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(All images courtesy of Wikimedia commons)

Stand back I am poking at you

Although MxPx was formed in 1992, everyone in the band was like literally 12 at that point, which is an age at which record companies don't sign bands. Not even Christian record companies. Well, not usually, anyway. Yes, MxPx is Christian music. I swear, Progressive Boink isn't going to turn into BIBLES: THE WEBSITE, but this is where we are coming from. This is what has formed at least half of us. Bear with us here.

So anyway, the first MxPx album came out in 1994 and it was called Pokinatcha! It was called that because the guys in the band were 16 or whatever and were doing the edgiest possible thing you can do in Christian music, which is to distort your guitars and play fast music about Jesus. As such, they felt they were poking at you. Their music was poking at you, their attitude was poking out at you, their style was poking towards your general direction like crazy. Pokinatcha! There is a song on the first album where they call themselves the Pokinatcha Punks! That song is called "PxPx" because MxPx thinks that "x"s are periods. MxPx is an acronym and it stands for "Magnified Plaid." The actual name of their band is "Magnified Plaid." If you can think of a more 1992-1994 name for a band than "Magnified Plaid," shut up; no you can't.

The original lineup of MxPx consisted of Mike Herrera on bass and vocals, Yuri Ruley on drums and Andy Husted on guitar. Songs on Pokinatcha! sounded basically like this:

There was a lot of seriously poppy stuff, but mostly the album was focused on poking at you, or perhaps poking near you. The "you" in question was you stodgy dogmatic churchgoers who don't know what it's like to just love Jesus on your own terms, maaaaaaan. In other words, no one listening to this album, ever.

This album was one of the first releases on upstart alternative Christian label Tooth & Nail. Tooth & Nail was a label that rankled the feathers of just about every Christian parent and bookstore owner in the early years, due to their putting out albums by bands that were more "edgy" than, say, DC Talk, or Audio Adrenaline, or Petra, or Greg X. Volz.

Tooth & Nail screwed over some bands (as is customary for record labels), but more importantly, they inspired every independent Christian alternative record label for the next 20 years, nearly all of which were way more slimy and underhanded and insolvent than "T&N" (as the kids called it). Tooth & Nail was the Epitaph Records of the Christian music scene in every conceivable way. The be-all, end-all destination if you happened to be in an alternative Christian band or perhaps a band of Christians (which is how MxPx chooses to define themselves, by the way). Tooth & Nail inspired a hundred unscrupulous "Christian" businessmen to rip off dozens of bands, but 20 years later, T&N is pretty much the only label still standing, although they're no longer an "independent" label.

But enough of this dry backstory. You're here for some Magnified G.D. Plaid

1995 - Teenage Politics

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WARNING: Not actually about politics

Teenage Politics was where MxPx really solidified their sound and their general theme for the next million years. Even 17 years later, I have no idea what "Teenage Politics" is supposed to mean, although the lyrics to the title track's chorus offer no real help in the matter:

Teenage politics
Is too confusing
Politics shmolitics
Is too confusing

Shmolitics "is" indeed very confusing.

Teenage politics contained such inflammatory language as suggesting that "legalistic people suck" and that "legalism makes me sick" and that "I wanna go puke on it." "Legalism," of course, being something that people in youth groups said in 1995 and then literally no one else ever talked about ever in history ever.

Teenage Politics is absolutely the archetype for everything else MxPx would ever do. It is also the first album featuring replacement guitarist Tom Wisniewski. Andy was ousted from the band for -- I dunno, I guess for wearing a NOFX shirt in the liner notes photo for Pokinatcha!? Who even cares.

The lineup was set, the sound was set, and Mike Herrera's -- for better or for worse -- insanely distinctive voice was front and center for their second-most-Jesus-y album ever. Behind Pokinatcha!, of course. Teenage Politics featured MxPx's most famous song ever (for what it's worth) and their anthem for the next eternity, "Punk Rawk Show."

Oh mercy, mercy me, that is one hell (Bible pun) of a 1995 video. MxPx created a legitimate flag-waving anthem for people attempting to rebel while still staying within extremely strict guidelines. Keep in mind that, for much of their audience, dying your hair blue and listening to fast music and running in a circle while not doing anything else rebellious and going to church three times a week was, legitimately, a form of rebellion. So good for them! Plus, intentionally misspelling "rock"? That's the Christian version of participating in the Seattle riots, y'all!

During this era, the videos for "Punk Rawk Show" and "Teenage Politics" were played on 120 Minutes, which was the weekly late-night MTV alternative videos show hosted by prototype nerdcrush VJ "Kennedy," who was also apparently some type of Republican weirdo.

I would be remiss if I got any further without discussing MxPx's mascot, which was the star of the first two album covers. Depending on who you ask, this guy might actually be called "Pokinatcha," which blech. This popeyed, hair-plugged, lockjawed nightmare beast has persisted over alllll these decades(!) and people actually get tattoos of his horrifying visage. Think about that.

1995 - On The Cover

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We are 'On the Cover' of this covers album do you see what we di

On the Cover was a really solid EP of cover songs, mostly by Contemporary Christian bands that were influences on MxPx. Nothing really much to say about this one, but it is important you are aware of this for later on. Also lookit these pretty boys all poking toward us.

1996 - Life In General

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NEEEERRRRRDDDDDDDSSS

Life in General was the big crossover hit for MxPx (kinda), as it started being carried in actual stores, meaning you didn't have to drive to the Bible megastore or mail-order it directly from Tooth & Nail. It also caused a serious rift among Christian fans, as MxPx made huge changes only noticed by the thumpiest of Biblers.

For starters, the album cover was drawn by seminal (lol) punk artist Coop, who is best known for drawing pictures of BBW devil-ladies shoving popsicles in their hoo-hahs. You may remember Coop's artwork from such places as "the back window of your weird gross cousin's lifted pickup truck" and "on the helmet of a motorcyclist wearing a sleeveless T-shirt reading IF YOU CAN READ THIS/THE BITCH FELL OFF."

Another major, major change (note: not major) was that MxPx went from explicitly singing about Jesus in 16 of 18 songs per album, to tangentially talking about Jesus (maybe) on 2 of 18 songs per album, causing Christians to harrumph their mightiest harrumphs and say that the band was forsaking Him.

Regardless, MxPx only experienced an increase in popularity during this time, perhaps in part because they were less interested in talking about how Jesus is gonna do it again y'all, and more interested in talking about how girls named Cristalena are "so cool." Counterpoint: no they're not and they have stupid names. (Sorry Cristalenas, but someone had to say it.)

This album was pretty split between songs about growing up (or more accurately, songs about being a kid) and songs about girls, but the last track on the album, "Southbound," is a song about cruising around with your chill bros on tour with the windows down. This imagery would eventually claim the mind of Mike Herrera like the brain slugs from Wrath of Khan.

The album also featured their "hit single" "Chick Magnet," which belied Herrera's deep underlying desire to become Mike Ness and marries not only aped greaser culture but a soupcon of the burgeoning swing craze. Swing heil, MxPx. Swing heil.

Absolutely the most 1996 video ever.

1998 - Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo

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It's a joke, I guess?

The success of Life in General led to MxPx getting signed to a seriously major label, A&M. Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo, pretty indisputably their best album, came out as a joint release between A&M and Tooth & Nail, because Brandon Ebel -- the founder of T&N -- is some sort of insane genius of getting paid.

In 1998, Tooth & Nail put out a collection of B-sides and in 1999 they put out a live MxPx album, so they were able to continue making money off the band that was no longer on their label and out playing 300 shows a year (no, really). Tooth & Nail was basically the No Limit Records of Christian music. They making money outchea.

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The lead single from the album is "I'm OK, You're OK," which is a cover of a song from one of MxPx's side project bands, The Cootees. The Cootees was a band where Mike played guitar, along with Dale Yob, who was literally in every Tooth & Nail band at one point or another, but never for more than one album. I never got the inside scoop on this, but I can only assume one of two possibilities:

1. Dale Yob is the biggest flake in Christian music

2. Everyone hates Dale Yob's guts

lol "Dale Yob"

The Cootees had Tom playing drums, because Tom started out as a drummer, not a guitarist (more on this in a second). Yuri wasn't in The Cootees because Mike and Tom probably hate him.

This album also began Herrera's fascination with the word "understand." At least one song on each release from this point on features at least one line featuring Mike wailing "UNDERSTAYYYYYYY-ANNNNDDD" or "UNDERSTANDAAAANNNGGGGG". It's ... it's kind of his thing, I guess.

2000 - The Ever Passing Moment

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In the years between Buffalo and The Ever Passing Moment, Mike listened to just a ton of Elvis Costello. So much Elvis Costello, you guys. So he thought he could make an MxPx Elvis Costello album. It didn't really work out that well. Just check out the rhyme scheme on the opener, "My Life Story." That isn't really inspired dude.

If you're a punk band and you spend any amount of time on a major label, you get to a point where you have to release a "too big for your britches" album. This was theirs. It features the cameo-est of cameos by Dave "sure, I'll do that" Grohl. They started their own label around the time of this album: Rock City Records. The Ever Passing Moment features MxPx's highest-charting single ever, which -- not coincidentally -- is one of the worst songs they've ever written. But the video features George Wendt!

The Ever Passing Moment features one of my favorite "inside stories" of all time. Keep in mind that the story I'm about to tell is pure hearsay, but from someone who was around the situation at the time. Mike has always written all of the music in MxPx. Apparently, up until this album, he also played all the studio guitar tracks (or at the very least, the lead lines) since he is/was a better guitarist than Tom. When they went in to record The Ever Passing Moment, Tom put his foot down and insisted on playing all the guitar tracks, since he was, y'know, the guitarist. There were still some lead lines that he wasn't able to play perfectly. The solution? They flew in Stephen Egerton of Descendents/ALL fame to play those lead lines. Everybody wins!

2001 - The Renaissance EP

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By 2001, MxPx had enough legitimate punk cred to put out an EP on Fat Wreck Chords, which was the Tooth & Nail Records of non-Jesus-ers. Wait. That's not right. Fat is every bit as disparaged by punk snobs as Tooth & Nail is by everyone who doesn't listen to bands on Tooth & Nail. (By the way, the bands that are currently on Tooth & Nail are pretty much uniformly fucking abysmal. Check out their roster page and then try to listen to some of those bands on YouTube without vomiting up your spleen.)

But anyway, MxPx put out an EP on a vetted secular punk label. They had finally made it! You know, on top of that whole "be on a major label and have a hit single" thing. This EP featured a couple tracks with original guitarist Andy, before he went back to crying and not being rich. Ha ha, what a stupid jerk.

In 2002, Tooth & Nail put out a 10-year-anniversary best-of album of the early stuff, because they were still making money off of MxPx. can you believe that shit

2003 - Before Everything & After

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Before Everything & After was MxPx's last album for A&M and their highest-charting album ever, peaking at No. 51 on the Billboard charts. As was par for the course in 2003's landscape of post-Mest pop-punk, this was by far their poppiest album ever, was over-produced to the max and the AutoTune was cranked sky-high. This was pretty much a 50/50 split between love songs and "hanging with m'chill bros!" anthems. Real talk: I frigging love this album, but readily and happily acknowledge that it is awful, awful schmaltz. I love bad things, everyone!

This album was a cliche of every pop-punk cliche ever. Songs from the album were featured on the soundtracks of not one, but TWO Hillary Duff movies. There are guests vocals from members of Good Charlotte, The Ataris, AND New Found Glory. MXPX WAS FEATURED IN A DIET PEPSI COMMERCIAL.

To this day, I still can't believe this album wasn't produced by John Feldmann.

2005 - Panic

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I'm not sure whether MxPx left A&M of their own volition or if they were dropped, but they signed to sub-Fat Wreck label SideOneDummy for their next album, Panic, which was supposedly a return to edgier fare but also featured Mark Hoppus, so it was a real catch-182.

Although this is possibly the most forgettable MxPx album, it features possibly my favorite song of theirs, which has the worst video of all time, featuring the worst Mike Herrera haircut in a 20-year history of lousy haircuts.

In 2006, MxPx also released a rarities album on SideOneDummy that is super, SUPER forgettable and pretty bad, and which also features the worst student-film video ever. Just barf city here:

2007 - Secret Weapon

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This was literally the only thing we could think of for the cover.

After about a decade away, MxPx went crawling back to Tooth & Nail, seemingly for good. They released Secret Weapon, which aped Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo in all the best ways and finally saw the guys looking comfortable and content doing what they're best at: writing MxPx songs that sound like MxPx songs. If you UNDERSTAYYYYYY-ANNNNNDDDD what I'm talking about. While we don't necessarily need more MxPx albums at this point, if they're going to keep making them, they can do way worse than Secret Weapon.

2009 - On The Cover II

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OOOPSTH WE DID IT AGAIN

This, however, is a perfect example of what we DON'T need from MxPx. This is a shitty album of bland, uninspired covers. This album tarnishes the legacy of their 1995 EP of covers of contemporary Christian music songs. Read that last sentence again. Not only do they do uninspired covers of songs that a million other punk bands have already covered, but they managed to fuck up "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg." How can you be a punk band and fuck up a Ramones song? That's like being in a Sugarhill Gang cover band and intentionally meaning to both brag and boast.

After this, MxPx put out another EP and a Christmas album. Yyyyyyyep.

2012 - Plans Within Plans

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I haven't really listened to this yet, but as with Secret Weapon, it isn't nearly as bad as you'd expect. Which is a fitting epitaph for this band that refuses to die. MxPx: not as bad as you'd expect.

These days, however, Mike seems much more interested in his latest side project. They're called "Tumbledown," and Mike thinks they're a country/bluegrass act. They're not. Chuck Ragan of Hot Water Music, Jon Snodgrass of Armchair Martian, Chad Price of ALL; those dudes successfully had country side projects and solo projects. Tumbledown? Not so much. It's MxPx with less drums and a standup bass:

Let's see: lousy rhyme schemes, music about hanging out and traveling with your chill bros, Mike Herrera voice in full effect ... I'm not sure why you needed a whole new band to do this, Mike. Surprisingly, this band isn't on Tooth & Nail. But I'm sure Brandon Ebel will find a way to make money off of it somehow.

So there you have it. 20 years of MxPx. A true American success story. Seriously. There are very few bands that have the ability to make music full-time for 20 years in more or less the same configuration. Good for them. I'll probably keep listening to the new stuff they put out, because nostalgia is strong and, as mentioned earlier, I like bad things.

The last time I went to an MxPx show, I was a little dismayed that there were so many people there who were 16 and under. I felt like a real creep. That was in 2000. That was 12 years ago. I would imagine the audience at a 2012 MxPx show is exactly the same, only now I'm older and creepier and beardier. But hey, who got one of Mike Herrera's picks by elbowing some kids out of the way? That's right. An old creep who just wrote over 3,000 words about a mediocre Christian punk band.

Thanks for the 20 years of poking, guys. It's been a gas.