Five Iron Frenzy—”FIF”, to their friends—was one of my favorite bands in high school and college. I saw them play live three times, including their 2003 final show in Denver, Colorado. I still play their old albums a lot. They’re fun, inspiring, and very singable. I’ve missed FIF these past ten years. Then, without warning, a Kickstarter campaign was launched, with the goal being met three times over within the first two days. All of a sudden, FIF had been resurrected. All of my dreams were coming true: more concerts, more albums, less “Combat Chuck.”
So, here I am, nearing thirty, listening to the newest albums from one of my favorite bands from a decade ago. It’s a weird moment, but I like it.
Engine of a Million Plots is not a “ska” album—whatever that means. It is not a follow-up to FIF’s farewell album, The End is Near. Honestly, if FIF had never stopped making music, EMP is the kind of music they would be producing today. It’s their distinctive style of music, yes, but it’s been updated to fit into the musical landscape of post-modern, post-everything America. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to “re-start” a band. It’s not like starting a band. In a situation like FIF was in, there’s a lot of baggage, a lot of pressure to be “Five Iron Frenzy,” which might have forced the band into a weird no-man’s-land between evolving/maturing and not. Definitely not an enviable position, but I think that Five Iron weathered the storm well.
The music is tight and really enjoyable. The lyrics are deep, challenging, and hilarious at the same time. One time listening to “Battle Dancing Unicorns” will let you know that, despite the hiatus, FIF hasn’t lost their sense of humor. However, their faith seems a bit more subtle, which is fine. FIF was never as “in your face” with the Gospel as The OC Supertones (another great, formerly dead ska band). And yet, the album does seem a bit darker. The artwork alone is enough to make you want to turn all the lights on in your house, just to chase away a bit of the darkness.
I’m not sure what the band was going through when they wrote these songs, but there’s an edge here. Not as morose as Brave Saint Saturn’s material—a side project for half of the members of Five Iron—but definitely in that same vein. This album is more mature, more grown up, and if I’ve learned anything in the past three years, it’s that becoming a grown-up can be a dark and grinding time. Perhaps that’s what these songs reflect. Either way, it’s a great album that will probably attract new fans. But what about the old fans? Well, they’ll enjoy it, but I think they’ll enjoy it while realizing that it’s just not the same. That’s what my brother and brother-in-law thought, and they were right there with me at FIF’s final show ten years ago.
Engine of a Million Plots is a great album. It might be their best, but it’s never going to be my favorite. My life is different. I’m different. The members of Five Iron are different. This isn’t a critique of them, and I mean no ill-will. Hopefully, as more albums are produced, the gap of ten years of life experience will begin to close. Either way, I’m glad that FIve Iron Frenzy is making music once again.
Stand Out Tracks
Zen and the Art of Xenophobia
We Own the Skies
Someone Else’s Problem
Battle Dancing Unicorns—So funny!
Into Your Veins
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night—Originally released for free as a part of the Kickstarter campaign. Love this song!
Have you listened to the album? What are your thoughts?
[Images via official album artwork and live photos taken by Drew Hueneger.]