March 2- 8, 2006
Return to Danger
On first listen, Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone? represented its era fairly accurately: one obnoxious bid for airplay plus nine instantly forgettable tunes. It seemed only natural that the follow-up, 2000's King James Version, tanked and the quartet slunk off to separate endeavors.
Then came the inevitable reunion album, and it's disarmingly great. Without any hype, Harvey Danger released just enough copies of Little by Little... for the faithful few to snap up, and then posted it on their Web site for the taking. Opener "Wine, Women and Song" gets the screwed-by-the-music-industry vitriol out of the way with wit and a winning melody, and it only gets better. "Cream and Bastards Rise," "Happiness Writes White" and "What You Live By" aren't as insidious as "Flagpole Sitta," but they've got solid hooks and a lot more depth. Maybe we were too quick to write off Merrymakers.
Or maybe not. Nine years later, its post-grunge riffs sound cartoonish and punched in. "Flagpole Sitta" is as annoying as ever, its disses a decade past their sell date: "I wanna publish zines/ And rage against machines," Nelson whines. "I wanna pierce my tongue/ It doesn't hurt, it feels fine." Ooh, burn, Grandpa. The nonhits come in two flavors: fast, screechy and random ("Carlotta Valdez") or slow, bitter and pointed ("Radio Silence").
It's not all dire, though. In "Old Hat," Nelson hits on the sentiment he finally nailed with "Happiness Writes White," and if he wasn't ready to write a good happy songfew ever doat least he showed some self-awareness with a throwaway line about how hard he was trying.
But it's not enough. "Flagpole Sitta" probably did more harm than good by selling hundreds of thousands of albums to people who think they never need to hear another Harvey Danger song. Leave Merrymakers in the used bin, and consider the Little by Little... download a peace offering.