America’s Favorite Pastime runs its course with songs that display the band’s fantastic sense of musicianship and punk attitude.
You have probably never heard of Whippersnapper. The Atlanta pop-punk quintet hung up their positivity-tinged pathos set to breakneck drumbeats more than a decade ago. But with a name like that smack-dab in the center of a massive stack of CDs marked “Five $ or Less” in Sharpie, it doesn’t hurt to take a look. The cover art alone—a silhouette of a punk rocker in midair replacing the batter in the MLB’s logo—makes it worth the couple bucks.
I had never heard of Whippersnapper. But one spin through America’s Favorite Pastime will make any millennial punk rock fan wish like hell they had. The band’s first full length was released in the spring of 1998, and is an overlooked gem that blends Strung Out chops with NoFX speed and the Lagwagon talent for making sadness feel necessary and normal. While you could make the case that the album is a derivative pastiche, this mixture created something wholly original. It’s the kind of record punk bands that began in the early ’00s and ’10s, a time laden with revivalist skatepunk groups, wanted to make but never could.
Opening track “Two of a Kind” doesn’t start well. With a little feedback and three depressive chords strummed slow and allowed to ring out, the opening 30 seconds makes you doubt this was a worthwhile bargain bin purchase. But just as you start to give up, Whippersnapper delivers a pick-slide and a manic drum fill that includes every piece of the kit, transforming the tune into a lightning-fast punk song that sounds like skipped beats. Rounded out by Andy Munn’s unique vocal melodies, you have a true punk rock anthem that should have gotten more attention.
A more traditional pop-punk song, “Swing Shift” is upbeat and mostly mid-tempo with occasional shifts into turbo gear and a chorus that’ll get stuck in your brain-meat for days. The mild riffage of “Stand Your Ground” adds a tinge of drama to the progression and again show’s off the band’s penchant for speed. It’s melodramatic sound matches the lyrical content when Munn sings, “Never run away you’ve got stand your ground to see this through.” This is a song about intelligence and bravery rather than the silly relationship-centric tunes that plagued the pop-punk scene.
“Bottom Line” is one of many standouts on the album, a bouncier track that relies on octave progressions to round out the sound. It also features some catchy and impressive harmonized guitar noodling that is par for the Whippersnapper course. Once again in an atypical fashion, Munn sings, “You try to justify your hate/ Your hate’s the only thing you have/ You have nothing of your own/ Your own life’s nothing but a sham.” Munn’s wordplay is special here, linking each line to the next creating a natural sing-along.
“Tragic Flaw,” “alt.guitar.com,” and “Perfect World” are incredibly well-rendered punk rock jams that have all the speed, melody and creativity of the tracks that come before them, proving America’s Favorite Pastime has no fluff. The band maintains a sense of fun, joy and tragedy while bridging the gap to the next tremendous highlight, “The System.”
While “The System” starts off like a fistful of punk you’ve heard before—a lone guitar scratching away at the strings with a simple vocal melody on top—it doesn’t stay that way. Despite its speed and raw energy, this is a musical tearjerker. The lead guitar offers a bittersweet octave and a simple but electrifying riff while the song’s structure dazzles the ears. This is a special cut that all aspiring punk musicians should learn from, and one that should linger in the minds of punk rock fans.
America’s Favorite Pastime runs its course with songs that display the band’s fantastic sense of musicianship and punk attitude. While there are obvious giants on the record, these songs are just slightly overshadowed by the power and resonance of the heavy hitters. “Perceptions” is a perfect closer matching “Two of a Kind” in the sense that its feel like an ending and a beginning respectively.
It’s a mystery that Whippersnapper was never counted among the punk rock mainstays of their era. Even their follow up, the slightly more experimentalThe Long Walk, couldn’t light a fire in the hearts and minds of punk fans. Perhaps it was because former label mates, the much more mainstream sounding Yellowcard, were noticed first. Maybe it was a lack of opportunity for such a fast, energetic band. Or it could have even been the calculated busyness of their music. Regardless, America’s Favorite Pastime is one of the best pop-tinged punk rock records of the period, and its honesty, energy and enthusiasm is still a pleasure today. For a record buried beneath a stack of unwanted albums, Whippersnapper’s debut was a great random find for a punk fan looking for something unfamiliar and enduring.