The annals of punk rock history will surely remember Less Than Jake’s TV/EP as a novelty record, but in this case I want to employ the word “novelty” in a totally positive sense. Though TV/EP isn’t the first time that punk versions of TV themes have been turned into an album, it is the first time I can think of that a project of that nature has been undertaken with such variety and energy.
TV/EP consists of 16 songs and clocks in at a breathless 11:23; the longest song (the Laverne & Shirley theme) runs 1:15 while the shortest (the Kit Kat jingle) takes up a mere 11 seconds. Yet somehow, and bear with me here, Less Than Jake takes us on a journey in those 11 minutes. It could be the fact that the songs on this album make up a single, unbroken wall of sound—instead of silence between tracks, there’s TV static and the sound of a remote clicking, which almost…almost…create the feeling of a concept album. But the real reason I think this “novelty” album feels so fresh and complete is that it basically covers all of television history.
Alright, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But the variety of covers on display is astonishing. We get themes from shows that are popular today (I, Carly) and themes from shows that were popular yesterday (Different Strokes). We get themes from shows we loved watching as kids (Animaniacs) and themes from shows we probably shouldn’t have been watching as kids but did anyway (Married With Children). We get commercial jingles that are pretty hilarious to hear in a rock & roll setting (“Hungry Hungry Hippos”) and commercial jingles that kind of suck no matter what genre they’re in (“Big Mac”). As a bonus to music nerds, we even get covers of a couple of songs by legitimate recording artists: Malcolm in the Middle‘s “Boss of Me” (originally They Might Be Giants) and That 70’s Show‘s “In the Street” (originally Big Star or Cheap Trick, depending on how you look at it).
One might easily write off an album like TV/EP as the product of the ironic musings of a ’90s punk band, but I think this album finds Less Than Jake wholeheartedly embracing the material as goofy fun. That’s why, for me, the heart of the album is “Toys R Us Kid”—a jingle that company hasn’t used in years. I haven’t heard it since I was a wee one and the energy and abandon Less Than Jake throws at this track did bring back some fond memories. That kind of performance sells me on TV/EP. True, any record consisting exclusively of songs taken from the “idiot box” will have its detractors, but that shouldn’t obscure TV/EP”s status as a raucous, fun record of punk rock covers. Embrace this record’s true novelty as much as Less Than Jake clearly has, and I guarantee you’ll have fun with it.