04 December 2013

just desserts: the complete waitresses || the waitresses || 2013

Why review a compilation? Because this is a special one. The Waitresses were a punkish new wave band from Akron, OH that are most well known for the undeniably unique 1982 single "I Know What Boys Like." Their catalog is only two albums deep, but their second album, 1983's Bruiseology, has never been released in a digital format until now. The inclusion of several b-sides and a couple of alternate versions make this a truly comprehensive compilation.

"No Guilt" is probably my favorite Waitresses song, because it exemplifies everything that is truly great about this band. The lyrics find a woman who's just been dumped putting on her best coat of confidence to tell her ex how awesome her life has been in his absence. Her assertions are terse and stilted, like, "I've been reading more and looking up the hard words," "I've been reading more and looking up the hard words," and "Did you know I own some valuable records?" It's just the right amount of awkwardness to let you know that she hasn't quite spread her wings, but damn it, she's trying. I love the line, "I got a trick to get them to deliver." Who is "them"? It doesn't matter, and that's just amazingly cool. Conversational, relatable lyrics over the band's trademark sort-of-ska-but-mostly-new-wave sound.

"I Know What Boys Like" is the band's magnum opus for a good reason: Patty Donahue's unique delivery is paramount and at its best use here. Guys are chasing her left and right, but rather than a loud, catty, defensive approach, she just sounds bored. She's so exhausted with their lame attempts to pick her up that it's crossed the line from amusing to draining. Quality sass like that is rare and, for me, in very high demand.

The title track of the second album is fantastic, and I'm so glad that the original version of it was included on this compilation. The band experienced some tension during this album's recording, and Donahue left the band temporarily, during which time the title track was recorded with bassist Tracy Wormworth on lead vocals. No disrespect to Donahue, but I actually much prefer Wormworth's version. I think her voice is better suited to the required delivery.

I'm completely in love with the song "Everything's Wrong If My Hair Is Wrong." Donahue's frustrated vocals and guitarist Chris Butler's brilliant songwriting mesh so well in this self-deprecating tale of not wanting to leave your place for fear of a drab appearance.

I know I said at the top of this article that "No Guilt" is my favorite of their songs, but I think it actually takes a very close backseat to "Christmas Wrapping." This truly is the greatest pop Christmas song ever recorded. Frustration with everyone else's irritating, overzealous cheerfulness, romantic faltering, and stressing over cooking -- it truly combines everything crappy about the month of December into five minutes of misanthropic ska-pop. It's the perfect amount of cynicism such that listeners who truly do love the holiday season will hear it as an amusing novelty and not an affront to Christmas.

"Quit," "Pussy Strut," and "Make The Weather" are other highlights, and the inclusion of the band's theme song for the TV show "Square Pegs" was a very welcome addition. This is a solid compilation and I encourage you to further explore this very underrated band's goofy little discography.