Record #19: The Ataris – Blue Skies, Broken Hearts…Next 12 Exits (1999)

​It’s the year 2001. I’m fourteen years old. I wear skating shoes, shorts so long they could be considered baggy capris (except capris haven’t come into fashion yet), and a ball chain choker necklace. My hair is spiked with Elmer’s glue mixed with water.

I’m learning to play the bass guitar, but I’m skateboarding too much to get any real practice in. I’m dating my first girlfriend, until she breaks up with me after five weeks for my best friend, who likes another, older girl what has her driver’s license and a Toyota Tercel.

I like her too.

The whole time, one CD is on repeat in my portable CD player, and my best friend’s boombox, and our older friend’s car stereo…

​Blue Skies and Broken Hearts… by The Ataris.  In a point in my life where all I was listening to was Christian rapcore and Weird Al, The Ataris were a revelation.

“You mean,” I said to myself, “there’s someone who’s felt exactly the same way as I do right now? And he’s in a band?” The marriage of happy pop-punk with adolescent problems written about in an adolescent language was something that the heavy handed wartime language of Christian nu-metal couldn’t offer me.

After buying Blue Skies, my tastes switched from POD and Project 86 to MxPx, Green Day, and, of course, Blink 182. But The Ataris was always the band that spoke to me the most. Kris Roe writes songs with morals. Not like the, “hey, don’t do drugs,” or “don’t make out with everyone you know” morality being spouted by the armies of Christian pop-punk outfits (I listened to most of them, too…Ghoti Hook, Hangnail, Sidewalk Slam…), but a nonreligious, common sense, post-teen-to-teen morality that reads like an older brother putting his arm around a little punk kid and saying things like, “Don’t ever compromise what you believe,” or, “the choices that we make may involve someone else,” or, more importantly in my own life (as I never listened to it until very late in my life, yet it was stuck in my brain), “If you think you found that one that you really love, make sure they love you back.”

Sentiment wins out over poetry, but there’s a real and legitimate pain there–22 at the time of recording, Roe had already broken up with the mother of his daughter, who lived in Indiana while he had moved to California. This experience wears on him, and despite his attempts to keep things teenaged, the pain of being an absent father rears its wounded head on a few of the tracks.

Musically, there’s nothing surprising here. Heavily distorted guitars, 8th note basslines, and a drummer hyped up on Mountain Dew pounding out 4/4 are all par for the course (barring one acoustic rehash of a song from an earlier album). It’s all a bit amateurish, although the lead guitarist flexes his riffwork during the instrumental passages, keeping the wordless moments interesting.

But what is punk if not amateur? Especially when the lyrics are likewise so unpolished. In the end, it’s the sentiments that run through the album, and the punk rock advice column Kris Roe seems to be writing for that gives this record its appeal to the teenage punk kid that still lives inside of me.

And it’s that teenage punk kid inside me that sang along with every. single. word on the first side of the album (the second half never grabbed me as much).

​And it’s the teenage punk kid inside me that made me track down a copy on vinyl as a college student, because every once in a while, you just need to let your inner punk kid have his way.

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