Album Review: Mom Jeans, ‘Sweet Tooth’

Posted: by The Editor

Mom Jeans’ frontman Eric Butler will likely be one of the first people to tell you that when this project was first conceived, it was a shameless ripoff of the bands that got them through that uncomfortable, pivotal moment between adolescence and full-blown adulthood. Borrowing the off-kilter charm vocal delivery of The Front Bottoms, the quirk and often over-romanticized songwriting stylings of early Modern Baseball, and the short-but-sweet, never longer than the song really needs to be mind-set of Joyce Manor, Mom Jeans released their debut album, best buds, in 2016 and somehow became the face of an entirely new generation of emo. I’ll be honest – that always kind of baffled me. All of the aforementioned influence was obvious; the pieces strung together in a way that made sense, but ultimately fell flat and left me wanting something more. The same can be said for sophomore effort, Puppy Love, which showed marked growth but even now, feels almost entirely forgotten about, and ultimately cemented their place as The World’s Okayest Band. And then Sweet Tooth happened. 

Sweet Tooth isn’t just the strongest Mom Jeans record to date, it’s a reintroduction to the band that saw them re-evaluate their songwriting, refine their ethos, and reap the benefits of throwing “cred” to the fucking curb. Butler went as far as saying, “I didn’t wanna think that I was a normie and maybe I’m not, but parts of me definitely are. Parts of all of us in this band definitely are, and we’re okay with that.” In that same interview, they mentioned that the songwriting for this record was inspired by bands like blink-182, Green Day, and Weezer, but not in the ways that you might think. Butler didn’t borrow from the adolescent humor of blink-182, the biting snark of Green Day, or the sardonic tone of Weezer. Instead, they chose to do what those bands did best – write catchy songs that people want to sing along to. He talks about the mission statement for the album, which was captured perfectly in the brevity of this sentence: “Ear candy is the goal, so Sweet Tooth is the record.” 

The lead single, “What’s Up?,” was released in the Fall of 2021 and served as the perfect launching pad for the bountiful buffet of sugary sweet pop-rock that makes up the rest of the album without sacrificing what fans loved about their previous work. The opening riff felt vaguely reminiscent of best buds, but by the time the first chorus came to a close, it was clear that Mom Jeans spent the three years between Puppy Love and Sweet Tooth working towards creating something that will stand the test of time. The Follow-up single, “Circus Clown,” is a more realized product of the band’s new approach to songwriting. The verses are playfully self-deprecating and the chorus is so massive that it practically begs to be sung along to. If r/momjeans is any indication, the reception to these songs has been polarizing, but that only speaks to how far the band has pushed the boundaries of what exactly a Mom Jeans song is supposed to sound like. And as incredible as these songs are on their own merit, they work even better in the context of the album. 

Butler chose to do something daring with the album opener “Something Sweet” and asked something of himself from the first seconds of the record, singing, “Give me something sweet so I can make it through the week. Don’t care if I end up with cavities.” The band wastes no time answering that call with not just some of the best Mom Jean songs, but some of the best songs that I’ve heard in years. “White Trash Millionaire” approaches the awkwardness of the “talking stage” of dating in a way that is both snarky and infectious, with a soaring chorus of “So now I’m staying up and sleeping in while wondering if we’ll ever speak again…” trading off the second line on each delivery before ultimately ending with “As the months get colder, I’m less sober, I’ll see your face over and over.” They employ some of the quintessential tropes of pop-punk throughout the track, sprinkling in mentions of the love interest hating the town they live/lived in and serving up some of the most wholesome sounding gang-vocals in a shining moment that sees them chanting, “When you say there’s nothing wrong, I think it’s all in my head. If love makes you rich, well I would rather be broke instead.” “Sugar Rush” and “Luv L8R” are two perfect pop songs. The hooks are borderline monumental, the use of trumpet in a way that doesn’t feel tacked on just for the sake of tacking it on, and the pure rush of dopamine that rushes down the spine when these songs hit their peak is something that has to be experienced in order to be believed. Words just cannot do it justice. Trust, I’ve sat here typing and deleting dozens of sentences to try and convey the impact of these songs before settling on what you just read. 

The former (“Sugar Rush”) starts with a reminder to take a deep breath before exploding into fits of the uncomfortable reality of the dissolution of a relationship that sees Butler singing “So just take a few deep breaths, try your best to regain your head. And I’ll do my best to be cool, calm, and collected. So stop taking out your feelings on me and I’ll find it easier to be honest about the things I never want to talk about with anyone ever again.” The latter (“Luv L8R”) has spent the last few months staking its claim to the title of “Joel Funk’s Favorite Song, point blank period.” When the drums pick up and the song starts to find its footing in the first verse, it hits like the strongest dose of nostalgia, invoking the same feeling I get when I listen to songs from Take Off Your Pants & Jacket or Nimrod, and I can’t help but put a little bit of STANK on it when I’m singing along to “So now I sleep all day, caught in the same place that I was before you had first showed up. Things don’t change all that much until you wake up and find out that you can’t recognize where you grew up.”  The real shining moment of this song, at least lyrically, hits as Butler gets a little angry and sings “I’m still just as angry, but now I’ve got no outlets. You only understand me if it’s in a catchy chorus. Fuck you and all your letters. New pills and getting better” right before the song explodes into a trumpet-led moment of absolute bliss. 

While I may certainly be partial to those two songs, the real victory lap for this record comes in its penultimate track, “Ten Minutes.” “Ten Minutes” is the culmination of everything that Mom Jeans has been working towards without any of the growing pains. This is one of the slower songs on the record, but it packs some of the weightiest punch as it navigates the fallout of the relationship we’ve seen hit highs and lows over the course of the songs that make up Sweet Tooth. Lyrically, Butler is unmatched with the frank level of honesty that pours out of him throughout, most notably as he croons, “Everybody has an excuse for their lack of empathy and self-interest, I know, that I’ve got no business butting in, I’d just feel better if I told you so right now. I’m not just being dramatic, I really care this much for you” as they explode into the second chorus of “I hope that no one sees me spend the next ten minutes inside my car, tears streaming at the rearview. Looking back I was so stupid, all I ever wanted was you. I spent the last ten months inside my room, just tearing down pictures of you. If you ask me how I’m doing, I could never hide the truth. I still miss you.” You can hear the heartache in his voice and this is arguably the best performance that we’ll hear from any one member of this band. 

The closing track, “Teeth,” rounds out the album in perfect fashion. Touching on more of the same subject matter, we get the sense of closure from these lyrics that we’ve been yearning for as we’ve experienced this record in real-time. The last thing we hear on this record is Butler and company singing, “You’ve got no teeth, you were just talking sweet. You were everything to me, now you’re just cavities…” in a perfectly bittersweet response to the album’s bouncy and optimistic opening line, which is just the cherry on top of this perfect pop-rock sundae of a record. With Sweet Tooth, Mom Jeans has shown that their almost immediate launch to the front of the genre was not a fluke and as Linda Belcher says, they’re a “Lean, mean, Mom Jeans machine.” 

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Joel Funk |@joelfunkii

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