Punk rock veterans come out swinging, flatten pop-punk
In the late eighties and throughout most of the nineties, there were a slew of bands that, rather than entrench themselves along side old-school idealists like Bad Brains, Minor Threat, and the Exploited in a perpetual war against authority and oppression, decided to concentrate their talents on writing songs that expressed a more juvenile side of punk rock. Failed relationships, disdain for parents and teachers (in lieu of cops and politicians), and tongue-in-cheek sexual innuendo were the new tools of the trade, and in no one's hands were they more skillfully implemented than in the hands of Berkeley, California's NOFX. Inevitably, most of these "new-school" bands saw their fifteen minutes come and go around the time Green Day unleashed their major-label debut Dookie, and those who lasted beyond that point did so only to release one or two mediocre albums and then fade into obscurity. NOFX, on the other hand, did something quite remarkable, something few (if any) of their contemporaries ever managed to do: they grew up. Their latest effort, The War on Errorism, finds the band wrestling with a consciousness not entirely contradictory to their previous works, but certainly a new level of focus and ambition permeates their tenth studio release. "Franco Un-American", "Idiots Are Taking Over", and "Regaining Unconsciousness" lay politically charged (particularly anti-Bush) sentiments over rabid guitar riffs and lightning-fast drum work courtesy of NOFX co-founder, Erik Sandin. "Decom-poseur" and "Irrationality of Rationality" exercise sobering social commentary (the latter includes the line "He actually started to believe/The weaponry and chemicals/Were for national defense/'Cause Danny had a mortgage/And a boss to answer to/The guilty don't feel guilty, they learn not to"). Another refreshing element of The War on Errorism is it's critique of punk rock's 21st century incarnation of itself. Mike "Fat Mike" Burkett lashes out, not at any one band in particular, but an entire population of bands he deems guilty of bastardizing a once socially feared and critically infallible genre. Fat Mike says it all in one sentence as he asks in the lyrics of "Separation of Church and Skate", "When did punk rock become so safe?" They're no Bad Religion, at least not yet. But, with their prolonged adolescence behind them, NOFX are well on their way to ranking among an elite group of bands that manage to be at once marketably talented and socially relevant, something no clothing line or headlining gig on an MTV tour could ever replace.Rancid - Indestructible
Of all the bands to rise up from the tar pits of the So-Cal punk scene in the early to mid-nineties, Rancid are widely considered to be the stalwarts of traditional punk values and ethics, favoring artistic freedom over big money contracts, merciless antagonism of authority, and an enduring social conscience. Indestructible, the sixth installment of the band's on-going tale of gutter-punk trials and tribulations, is chock-full of throwback ska riffs, curl-lipped sneering, and enough white-knuckle intensity to satisfy even the most savage of mosh pit enthusiasts. "Out of Control", "David Courtney", and "Born Frustrated" find Rancid in the driver's seat of a truly formidable punk rock steamroller, while slower, more collected tracks like "Arrested in Shanghai" and "Red Hot Moon" expose a human side to a notoriously thick-skinned band of degenerates. If nothing else, Indestructible is a ball-fisted reminder for us all that Rancid, amid a sea of imitators, will always demand our immediate attention.
Dropkick Murphys - Blackout
The Dropkick Murphys have never been a hard band to figure out. A bone-crushing mix of Irish heritage, working-class pride, and good old-fashioned American punk rock has rendered album after album of clenched-fist sing-a-longs and beer-swilling bedlam. Though not fundamentally cerebral, Blackout observes the Murphys at the top of their game. A couple of re-workings of Irish folk songs ("Fields of Athenry", "The Black Velvet Band"), an adaptation of a Pete Seeger poem ("Gonna Be a Blackout Tonight"), and a host of raucous rally cries ("Dirty Glass", "As One", and "Walk Away") highlight 46-minutes-plus of Boston punk rock at its gritty and simplistic best. One of the true gems of the album (and the entire Murphys catalog, for that matter), "Buried Alive", tells the drastically abridged tale of the nine Pennsylvania miners trapped 24 stories underground for more than three days last summer. Blackout won't go down in history as one of the premier punk albums of all time, but it certainly ranks among the better releases of 2003, and in a year in which Radiohead, the Roots, and Johnny Cash have all released new material, that's saying a lot.
Less Than Jake - Anthem
The faithful few that have followed ska-punk veterans Less Than Jake from their modest beginnings as a pop-rock trio have probably noticed a few recurring themes over the course of the band's five studio releases and countless singles, 7" discs, and EP's. For instance, the well-oiled mix of punk, metal, and ska, song titles that have little or nothing at all to do with the lyrics of the songs, and (probably most notably) Chris DeMakes' preoccupation with "moving on" and "leaving town". Anthem, Less Than Jake's first full-length record in three years, is certainly no departure from the afore-mentioned formula, though, this time around, DeMakes yields a sizable portion of the songwriting duties to longtime bandmate and bassist Roger Bell. But what Anthem lacks in spontaneity it more than makes up for in seasoned and cohesive songwriting that maintains itself throughout 14 tracks. Highlights include "The Ghosts of Me and You", "Motown Never Sounded So Good", and "Short Fuse Burning". Die-hard LTJ fans will have few complaints regarding the band's latest trove of angsty youth battle hymns, while those less dedicated may find themselves suggesting to Gainesville's finest that they take their own advice and "move on".
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