MxPx: Secret Weapon review

Christian punk rock’s favourite sons, MxPx, are back, with an album that does not disappoint but also does not surprise. Whether you’re aware of MxPx’s incredible back-catalogue or new to the entire concept of Christian Punk, this album is well worth giving a spin. For the sake of old times, for the sake of hearing simple, unpretentious guitar-music, for the sake of finding out what’s bugging these eternal teenagers now that they’re all grown up, it’s worth listening to. But, lacking the visceral aggression of early albums like Pokinatcha (released in 1994, while the band were still in school), not quite hitting the Pop mark like Teenage Politics (1995) or providing something to please the unwashed Green Day loving masses like Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo (1998) did, Secret Weapon is not so much the sound of Skateboard Punk-rockers growing up, as going on.

Little has changed. Groovy, up-tempo bass still underlies most tracks, trademark speedy punk drumming remains less than complicated and chord-progressions are never going to be accused of being overblown, excessively ambitious, or, well, Prog. Vocalist Mike Herrera’s nasal whine is never going to impress a vocal purist.

But MxPx have done what Michael W Smith could simply never do: gain credibility in the notoriously cynical secular skate-punk scene. MxPx were one of the biggest bands of the 90s, playing the largest Punk rawk festivals and tours, being signed both to major labels and the legenday Fat Wreck-Chords, home of such New-school Punk behemouths as NOFX and Less Than Jake. They angered the Christian music world at the time by repeatedly saying they were not a Christian band. They were, but they didn’t like to have to fit in and live up to the expectations that label created. MxPx have always sung about their faith, but then they’ve always sung about girls, skateboards and refusing to conform.

From classic lines like “Legalistic people suck!” to all-time teenage anthems like Punk Rawk Show, MxPx’s legacy alone could make one give their latest album a chance. Unlike comparable secular act, Green Day, MxPx have neither believed their own hype and strayed into unfamiliar musical territory, nor have they tried embarrassingly to prove they still rock like they did when they were 16.

This album is full of thoughtful, somewhat jaded but undoubtedly Christian songs from guys who have always tried to ‘keep it real’ without ever feeling they had to spell it out. The welcome addition of bitter, painful breakup songs is not unique in Christian music, but all too rare. This is one to play in the car on the way to picking up the kids from the skate-park, thinking about the old days and wishing you were on the other side of the fence.

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