I’ve reviewed a few “concept bands” in my time, including one whose whole album was based on hot tubs, but the Midwestern trio The Chugs have got to be the weirdest: a punk band dedicated to celebrating Hamm’s beer! As demonstrated on their debut release The Cancept Album, The Chugs are bizarre on several levels. First off, I didn’t even know Hamm’s beer was still a thing! (Sold on the West Coast when I was growing up, I haven’t seen it for decades.) Secondly, and even wilder, the Chug’s genre of choice is hardcore speed punk, which doesn’t exactly remind one of mainstream American beer!
Despite all that, this idea totally makes sense. Hamm’s beer had great commercials featuring animated bears when I was a kid, and their “jingle” was a native-sounding war chant with pounding drums. In fact there’s a passage in the Beatles track “Mr. Moonlight” that sounds just like that commercial (“And from the whirl, you sent my girl”). That said, I assumed these guys were putting me on until I heard the album; I can assure you that if this is a “bit,” they are fully committed. It’s been a minute since I’ve heard speed punk this wild, creative and ferocious, and they sing so fast that you might not even catch the Hamm’s references unless you’re reading the lyrics!
The members of The Chugs are Scott Wambach, Brian Harding and Sam Kuban. They state that the band “only makes music about our passions, and we are exclusively passionate about Hamm’s beer, America’s Premium Classic. We fully embody the golden brew, and we're headed to the land of sky blue waters.” Recording took place at Wally Opus Records in Evansville, Indiana.
“Sky Blue Waters” (a key phrase from Hamm’s advertising campaigns) opens the album with feedback and a descending guitar riff worth of Dick Dale. As the feedback morphs into an almost melodic background, the bass and drums kick in at hyper-speed. This song is built on a simple rock riff but played with extreme energy. The lead vocals are classic punk (Midwestern with an English accent… Why not?), with multiple overdubs for the chorus singers that approach Queen-like majesty. The lyrics do seem to deal with Hamm superficially (“We'll drink liquid gold / Where the food stays hot, but the beer stays cold / Where we'll nap under the trees / After we celebrate responsibly”) but is more about striving for a paradise on earth. In fact I’d say that’s the group’s best trick: if you hadn’t read their band page first, you’d have no idea these songs had anything to do with Hamm’s.
Not content with just one part, this song has a “false ending” complete with spectator applause before the band cranks into another section with chant-like vocals before circling back to the original arrangement for the “true ending.” The lead singer shouts “Fuck yeah!” with obvious pride, before more feedback heralds the next song. “Public Transit” opens with that tinny-boom-box-into-glorious-stereo trick (it’s overused but it always works). This is a hilarious song about smuggling beer to the back of a bus but getting caught by the driver. “You took my Hamm's / Away from me / I want it back / Right now, right now with an apology!” Who amongst us cannot relate? The lead vocalist cranks up the angst and anger several notches, the chorus singing is brutally thick and the guitars threaten to spontaneously combust.
“Morning Beer” is the shortest track and takes a moment to reset the album with a Tex-Mex instrumental that would fit perfectly in a Tarantino film. Turns out this is just an intro to a quite lovely and affecting ballad about collapsing in a strange place after a night of drinking beer (natch), being awoken by the sun and yearning for that first morning Hamm’s to help start the new day. An amazing amount of music and emotion crammed into a minute-forty-seven!
“Breakfast of Hammpions” is epic at four minutes and features some of the most sophisticated chord sequences and background singing, while still retaining that unstoppable energy and subversive humor. If you’re keeping track, this song seems to continue the “story” from the previous song where our narrator desperately needs a morning beer, finally and gloriously scoring in the parking lot of an Arby’s at 9:00 A.M. Living a sheltered existence such as mine I can’t imagine how anybody could get THIS excited about beer, but these guys sell the idea so relentlessly that I almost believe them.
“(I Think We’re) Going to Prison” switches gears yet again for a mellow, doo-wop influenced intro that blasts back into hardcore punk, then back to doo-wop. That’s another thing about these guys that I love: they are undeniably hardcore but occasionally “change the channel” to keep things unexpected and lively. This song sees the band inciting a bar fight and maybe burning down the building because they drained the entire keg of Hamm’s. Seems reasonable!
“Chug With You Forever” closes the set with The Chugg’s signature brand of melodic pop punk serenading a love interest with promises of drinking Hamm’s together (in the shade, in parking lots and in the shower) for 90 years. The final lyrics have a chorus that’s swollen with multiple overdubs and a party’s worth of pals joining in (you can hear them laughing at the end, which is hilarious). “Did you get it?” “We got it. Thanks so much!”
You’re welcome, guys. Thank YOU for one of the most unique albums I’ve heard in many a beer-drenched moon!
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