I’ve been gearing up to reviewing this, THE NO ONES’ second release, My Best Evil Friend, for awhile now. So prolific is my friend Scott McCaughey* that I find it hard to come up with new adverbs ’n’ adjectives to describe what he’s done. And this time – dare I say it! – he may have authored his Sgt. Pepper. (And by saying that I know I have doomed this release to a very long shelf life, good or bad.)
“‘Don’t drop out!’ – No way, I’m here to stay” sings Scott on album opener/sorta-title-track “KLIV,” a paean to the San Jose radio station he grew up listening to in the ’60s. The lyrics are basically a list of song titles, band names and phrases associated with listening to the Top 40 AM station of his youth (mine was 93 KHJ outta L.A.). What follows are 17 more odes to rock ’n’ roll and radio, sort of a c*****t album (though not explicitly stated as such) and a damned good one at that.
Throughout My Best Evil Friend, the band – made up of McCaughey, Peter Buck (his mate from The Minus 5 and R.E.M.), Frode Strømstad and Arne Kjelsrud Mathisen (they of Norway) – tackle various genres of rock but seemingly without specifically setting out to do so. Though I detect little dabs – or is that tabs? – of psychedelia here and there, along with power pop and other subgenres of rock, there are only a few instances of “hey, let’s do a girl-group type of song” or “this one oughta sound just like the 13th Floor Elevators!”-type shenanigans here. One of them, barely, is “Song for George,” a pastiche of Harrisonian grooves that sounds familiar without being overtly Beatley. Likewise, “Blue Cheer Captain” and “Phil Ochs Is Dead” have an R.E.M. vibe to them; that kind of thing can’t be helped when 1/4 of your band is 1/4 of Athens’ Fab Four. (But the songs aren’t about R.E.M., anyway.) All told, My Best Evil Friend comes off as a very personal – just what is “Band With No Head” about? – life story, starting with birth (“KLIV”) and working its way to the inevitable (“Solo in the End”) and beyond (“The After Party”). It’s a very upbeat album, though there’s a definite melancholic nostalgia lurking beneath the sunshine superman vibes.
I wasn’t expecting to like The No Ones’ latest anywhere near as much as I do. After all, the band’s first album (The Great Lost No Ones Album) got kind of, errrr, lost in the early Covid shuffle and I hadn’t really given it a second shake in the ensuing couple of years. I mean, McCaughey’s release schedule – he being a member of this band, The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows and solo artist Scott The Hoople – rivals that of Neil Young’s! (As a matter of fact, McCaughey has already done an album of NY covers, Neil (Vol. 1) and has two more on the way with another solo collection AND a Minus 5 one too!)
My Best Evil Friend is available as a 2LP vinyl affair (color vinyl on initial pressing) and single CD. You get 18 songs on vinyl and only 12 on disc, so do yourself a favor and buy the wax – if only to not miss out on one of the best songs The No Ones have ever committed, “All the Stupid Days.” Whichever format opted for, I can’t imagine any rock ’n’ roll fan feeling less than severely delighted with their purchase. – Marsh Gooch
5/5 (YepRoc YEP 3048, 2023)
* Scott and I know each other from his early days (c. 1980s+) in the Seattle music scene when he was fronting Young Fresh Fellows. I used to shop at the record store he worked in, too, and he turned me on to a LOT of good music!