When Screeching Weasel returned just a few months ago with First World Manifesto, their first album in over a decade, long time fans who didn't follow the behind the scenes drama might have been confused why John Jughead was not involved. He has been the only constant member besides frontman Ben Weasel for the band's entire career. His involvement in a Ben Weasel-related project is practically the only thing separating a Screeching Weasel release from a Riverdales or Ben Weasel solo one. I'm certainly not saying that his guitar playing was indispensable to the band's sound (he only ever played rhythm guitar), but it's hard not to think of the bands you love as being friends, and that perceived friendship is part of what draws us back to those bands, especially ones that play (generally) light-hearted, fun music like SW always has.
It turns out that there was a definite reason why Screeching Weasel had not released any new music for so long, while the Riverdales and Ben Weasel by himself managed to keep recording. It seems that Weasel and Jughead were involved in a lengthy legal battle regarding the usage of the band's name. The summary of which is that Weasel wanted to continue recording with the band without the involvement of Jughead. Apparently Jughead had some legal claim to at least a part of the band's nomiker. He would eventually lose this battle, and Screeching Weasel would reunite for the first time without the guitar playing of John Jughead.
The one saving grace for the lineup of Screeching Weasel that appeared on First World Manifesto was the return of lead guitarist Dan Sullivan (A.K.A. Dan Vapid). Sullivan had played with the band during what most people consider their "classic" period, performing on My Brain Hurts, Wiggle, Anthem For A New Tomorrow, How To Make Enemies and Irritate People and Bark Like A Dog. He had also played in every incarnation of the Riverdales, contributing not only guitar, but also vocals on some of the band's best songs. His return to the Screeching Weasel fold (in addition to guest vocals by "Dr." Frank and Joe King of the Mr. T Experience and The Queers, respectively) was enough to make First World Manifesto an enjoyable album for long time fans of the band, and the Lookout! Records pop punk scene of the early '90's in general. Add to this plans by Fat Wreck Chords to reissue the entire Screeching Weasel and Riverdales catalogs (which fell out of print yet again), a full national tour, and tons of online media hype, and momentum seemed to be going in the right direction for Ben Weasel and company.
That is, until the much publicized incident at SXSW.
The story goes that fans were throwing ice at the band, and as Ben Weasel heckled the crowd about it (note: pissing off his audience is nothing new for Weasel, he even penned a song called "You're The Enemy" to play when he felt that audiences weren't acting the way he saw fit), he attacked a female member of the audience who had the misfortune of jumping on stage at the time his anger reached a boiling point.
This led to all the members of the band quitting, issuing an apology on their behalf to the fans, and Fat Wreck Chords backing out of their plans to offer the reissues. Around the same time, Weasel also released an apology, and it seemed that it was all over for Screeching Weasel.
Well, apparently, Ben didn't want all his legal battles with John Jughead and the process of rebuilding interest in the band to be for nothing, because just a few short months later, he recruited a completely new line up for the band, and they headed quickly into the studio to record a new E.P., Carnival of Schadenfreude which was released exclusively on vinyl by Recess Records. Much like First World Manifesto was bookended by two songs decrying the punk scene and those that Ben Weasel didn't find fit into his view of it, Carnival of Schadenfreude starts and ends with songs about the "incident", and Ben Weasel's half of the story. Or at least, how he's telling it now. He paints himself as a victim of a petty punk scene that wanted nothing more than to see one of its long time heroes fail, his band members as fair weather friends that turned on him, and his label nothing more than a bunch of elitists who left him when the cards were down.
Unfortunately, Weasel forgets that the internet has documented everything that happened regarding the event, so his tirades are going to fall largely on deaf ears, and he comes off looking like the petty one.
The rest of the E.P. plays like typical Screeching Weasel fare (the backing band sounds great, by the way, if not a bit like the world's best Screeching Weasel cover band), proving, if nothing else, that Ben can still pen a catchy, fun punk tune or two (although the song about how rich he and his wife are and how all his old punk friends are losers is a bit confusing to say the least), and hopefully as he moves forward with Screeching Weasel version 5.0 (which he undoubtedly will, for better or worse), he focuses more on having fun, and less on his curmudgeonly gripes.
Carnival of Schadenreude - 6 out of 10
This is the title track from Carnival of Schadenfreude, in all it's whiny, self-important glory.