Idol Chatter

MxPx‘s first album, 1994’s “Pokinatcha,” was one of the first releases on Tooth and Nail Records, a label which has since become the juggernaut of Christian indie imprints. A few years back, MxPx and the label’s owner, Brandon Ebel, had a public falling out over the band’s contract, which led the band to jump ship to A&M Records for three albums, then one with “secular” indie label SideOneDummy.
So the band’s just-released “Secret Weapon” finds them back home in more ways than one: MxPx is back with producer Aaron Sprinkle (who discovered the band and produced “Pokinatcha”), back with Tooth and Nail (they’ve patched things up), and back, sort of, in the “Christian music” camp.

MxPx_idol.jpgEven when they were ensconced in the Christian scene, MxPx were never evangelists in tattooed sheep’s clothing. Their early records dealt with Christian faith in a fairly straightforward way, but they were also more angry and explicitly political than most Christian bands. “Teenage Politics” featured the lines “I look to you/Jesus yes I do” and “Americanism, nationalism, bow to the flag-ism/militaristic, egotistic, high class and capitalistic.” This was pretty exciting stuff–a punk band that had both righteous anger and a sincere faith.
But MxPx’s best album from that era, “Life in General,” though it was catchy, was mostly about girls and growing up–with scant mention of God or anarchy. And since then, their lyrical spirituality has shifted towards a more general optimism.
On “Secret Weapon”‘s final song, a hidden track, bassist and songwriter Mike Herrera asks. “What if I wrote a song about nothing?” Actually, he’s kind of been doing that for a while, and most of the new songs are vague paeans to seizing the day and making the most of life, like “Here’s to the Life” and “Never Better Than Now.” There’s a lot about self-reliance: The title track reveals that “you are/your own/secret weapon.” The spiritual references, too, are pretty oblique. Hererra briefly mentions that he “met the master of the never ending promises,” and “Angels” is not lyrically unlike Amy Grant’s song of the same name.
There was a certain spark of youthful insouciance and dangerous faith that drove MxPx’s early records. “Secret Weapon” comes close to this at times–“Shut it Down” and “Bass So Low” feel exhilarating, and “Punk Rawk Celebrity” is a vigorous 21st century answer to the band’s classic “Punk Rawk Show.” But unfortunately, MxPx no longer seems to be among the most innovative and passionate Christian punk bands, even if they remain a solid choice for teenagers who need cheering up.
So I’m going to suggest you burn–the kind with fire, as in take a pass on–this record, with the caveat that the three songs mentioned above are worth saving from the flames.
–Joel Hartse

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