Words by Brett Ensbey
What do nuclear war, racism, school shootings, capitalism, religion, sexism and humanity’s apparent inability to be good to each other all have in common? That’s easy, all of these topics and more are covered in one way or another on the new album from Micah Schnabel.
Micah is no amateur to writing and releasing music, having founded the Columbus, Ohio based alt country/folk punk band Two Cow Garage, where he plays guitar and shares vocal duties with Shane Sweeny (whose solo albums you should also totally check out) in 2001. As busy as his band keeps him, Micah Schnabel has somehow found the time to release 4 solo albums; ‘When the Stage Lights Go Dim’ (2010), ‘I’m Dead, Serious’ (2013), ‘Your New Norman Rockwell’ (2017), and now his most recent offering, ‘The Teenage Years of the 21st Century’, released on December 3rd 2019.
It’s hard to talk about this album purely from a musical perspective, when there is so much more going on. The various themes throughout ‘The Teenage Years of the 21st Century’ are all brought together through brilliantly crafted lyrics and a Bob Dylan style of storytelling. I’m sure this won’t be the last time I mention Bob Dylan, as the similarities have always been apparent in Micah’s songwriting, whether intentional or not. In my opinion, this album is a perfect mix between ‘Rogue Taxidermy’ by Days N Daze and Greenday’s ’21st Century Breakdown’. I know I just lost at least 20 punk points for mentioning a Greenday album that isn’t ‘Kerplunk’ or ‘Dookie’, but the fact that the albums I mentioned are so different to each other shows exactly how much ground Micah Schnabel covers on his latest release. There isn’t a single song on the album that doesn’t contain at least one line designed to make a point that needs to be made, ask a question that needs to be asked or start a conversation that desperately needs to be had in the current state of the world. Throughout the course of the album Micah paints a pretty grim picture of what modern life in America is really like for those not born into wealth and privilege. At times, it almost feels like you are listening to a story about a dystopian future, led by rich white men with no morals or compassion for their fellow man, the sad part is that is a pretty accurate take on modern society.
The album’s opening track, the aptly named An Introduction, sets the tone for Micah’s revolution. Hauntingly raspy and set to an acoustic track, the song could easily be a collaboration between Bob Dylan and Billie Joe Armstrong (I know, minus another twenty something points, but whatever).
Gentle Always, the album next offering, is more of a plea for the world to change it’s ways than a song. Throughout the song, Micah lays out his idea for a revolution of love, delivering lines like “What’s the harm in being decent while we’re alive? And if this bothers you, maybe ask yourself why” and explaining that we as people have spent enough time divided by things like money, race, religion and gender, and that perhaps a little compassion is exactly what the world needs right now.
Although every song on ‘The Teenage Years of the 21st Century’ has something unique about it, in both composition and lyrics, the standout song for me definitely has to be A Celebration. A subtle mix of punk rock and beat poetry, you can’t help but tap along as Micah delivers a tongue in cheek rant about capitalism, before the music cuts off and he makes his point that not everybody wants to “Get rich or die trying” and that some of us are “Okay with simply surviving”.
With so many memorable songs throughout the album, I could easily sit here all night and talk about how well written the lyrics are, or go in depth about the points made in every song, but at some stage I need to shut up and give you a chance to go and listen to the album yourself, so instead, I will leave you with a couple of my own personal recommendations. First of all, I have to suggest that you give Emergency Room (in my opinion the most well written song on the album) a thorough listen. With a Gaslight Anthem type feel in terms of storytelling, this song is not only an emotional song about the thoughts and feelings that come with sitting in a hospital waiting room with a sick or dying loved one, but it’s also a sad and realistic tale about the state of the American healthcare system. My next suggestion would have to be Remain Silent, a song that is for anybody who has ever asked themselves the question “When did being a decent human being become political?” If you have ever found yourself struggling to bite your tongue at a family gathering as a narrow minded relative spews their world views all over the table, or if you ever become increasingly frustrated watching the mainstream media preach fear and hatred in an attempt to keep the world divided, then you will find this song completely relatable. Last but certainly not least on my list of recommendations, is this gem, New Shoes, a song in which Micah Schnabel takes aim at the issue of toxic masculinity, questioning what we teach young boys when it comes to topics such as love, empathy and vulnerability.
So if you’re looking for an album filled with ‘pop hits’ and songs that make you dance as bright colours bounce across the screen, while some guy with the quintessential boy band look flashes you his painted on smile, you should probably keep looking because that’s not what you’re going to find in ‘The Teenage Years of the 21st Century’. However, if you’d prefer songs of substance and a realistic look at life and the world we live in, I highly recommend going out of your way to give this album a listen. While Micah Schnabel does a great job at highlighting the problems we face every day in modern society, the fact that you won’t hear these songs played on commercial radio or MTV (assuming they still play any music at all) is a pretty good indication of what is wrong with today’s music industry.
Checkout this album and more of Micah’s music here: https://micahschnabel.bandcamp.com