How the best (punk) band of the 2000s clawed their way back after 15 years of silence
Be Your Own Pet proved themselves permanently punk by imploding before they were old enough to rent a car, just two albums and a bunch of EPs into their short, feverishly exciting, patently unsustainable existence.
But the punk model has changed; the New York Dolls only lasted for five or so years in their pre-punk heyday, then more than doubled their recorded output upon reforming in 2006 with most of the original members dead. So 15 years later, the only thing shocking about BYOP’s return is the particular swath of time that they were AWOL — most of their 20s and early 30s. You know, the prime years for a band to hit their stride. Be Your Own Pet never got to do that. They credibly corralled the mechanical bull of hype during peak Pitchfork years when power-chord guitar bands and outfits fronted by women were particularly dismissed. Then a major label fucked them over and deleted three classics (“Becky,” “Black Hole,” “Blow Yr Mind”) from their nearly perfect sophomore effort Get Awkward and — who could blame them for tiring of this bullshit? — they parted ways almost immediately, with Jemina Pearl turning out a more than respectable solo record simply because it was in her contract.
So despite fervent fandom from icons like Thurston Moore, Iggy Pop and Jack White, the best new band of the 2000s disappeared. Original drummer Jamin Orrall formed JEFF the Brotherhood with his brother Jake and ace riffmaster Jonas Stein started Turbo Fruits, both in the Burger-garage mold, though the latter’s “Gotta Lotta Ladies” ripped. Succeeding drummer John Eatherly made underrated bops like “Meltdown” with the surprisingly Killer Springsteen-new romantic hybrid Public Access T.V.. And Pearl hunkered down into home life raising a family without making much music at all and definitely not living on social media. When White’s Third Man Records (co-run by her husband Ben Swank) talked to the band about reissues recently, huge-haired bassist Nathan Vasquez led the charge to simply make new music.
It’s worth noting here that Third Man is on an incredible streak in 2023, between I Play My Bass Loud, the audaciously fun solo debut from the Raincoats’ Gina Birch at age 67, Super Snõõper, the rip-roaring debut album from egg-punk duo Snõõper, an upcoming album from Philly faux-70s greats Sheer Mag, and now Mommy, the once-unimaginable third Be Your Own Pet album with a typically hilariously direct title. Also worth noting that every one of these exciting prospects has a woman on the mic. And that all them fucking rule. It’s like White and Swank told the revitalized Saddle Creek (who boast Big Thief, Hop Along and Feeble Little Horse) to hold their Colt 45s.
And while Mommy isn’t as astonishing as the teenage lightning this band captured in a bottle from 2003 to 2008 without a bum cut (or the Dolls’ often metaphysically catchy 2006 reunion album), it still proves that even off their game they can make one of the year’s best rock albums. Pearl’s voice has deepened and she declines to all-out shriek, Stein trades sneaky guitar lines for thick slabs of crowd-pleasing garage progressions, and Vasquez and Eatherly buoy the thickened mix doing things the band couldn’t have envisioned at 21; try Vasquez’s descending bass runs in “Goodtime!” or Eatherly going Phil Rudd on the glam-stomped AC/DC punch of “Pleasure Seeker,” which is probably the most surprising (and fun) thing here. Since Be Your Own Pet has an all-time frontwoman, they could really do anything they want. “Drive” has Eatherly’s prints all over it, while “Erotomania” could’ve fit seamlessly on Pearl’s 70s-slicked 2009 one-off Break It Up. Stein’s pedalboard has certainly beefed up since then, check out the gnawing fuzz of “Big Trouble.”
VIDEO: Be Your Own Pet “Big Trouble”
Nothing on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ beloved but sleepy 2022 reunion Cool It Down hits as hard as the opening “Worship the Whip,” which targets Republicans, or as explicitly as “Big Trouble,” the most powerful track, which demands abortion rights, childcare, equal pay, and “true equity” without beating around the bush. I hesitate to call Mommy their “mature” record because this band was always wise, crafty, explosive, and fucking hysterical beyond their years. But they’ve traded girlfriend-boyfriend combat and anthems for throwing pizza for new frontiers and it’s the only BYOP album without a song about zombies. Pearl was outwardly excited to make the rare “punk album about motherhood.” See also: “Bad Mood Rising,” keyed to the relatable theme of “can’t remember if I took my meds yesterday.”
Not that they limit themselves to the theme; the glimmering Best Coast special “Teenage Heaven” may be the most beautiful song of the band’s career. Mommy is a determinedly useful record seeking new audiences, new generations to connect with, new rock ‘n’ roll conquests to prove their mettle.
And it’s not impossible on this evidence for Be Your Own Pet to become the best band in the world again. In fact, they probably never stopped.
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