Catch-Up Capsule Reviews: Punk

Continuing with my catch-up reviews of older albums I bought this year, I have three punk albums that date back to the 1980s and 1990s. It’s interesting to look back at what makes them work, or not, today. I make no secret of the fact that I don’t think most works of art age well, and I rate them now by how well they work for me in modern times. I probably would have been more generous to all of these if I were looking at them when they first came out. On the other hand, this attitude makes me inclined to appreciate the punk scene, with its living-in-the-moment approach. I think two of these three still hold up fairly well today.

Welcome To The Real World cover

The Business – Welcome To The Real World

The Business – Welcome To The Real World

The Business, an influential British Oi! band, provides an excellent example of the difference between a mix of songs and an album. I knew them from compilations, where their distinctive songs of honor and street life stood out. A whole set of these songs, though, run together. They do a pretty good job of approaching a common theme from many different directions, but in practice it still feels repetitive. The slightly muted production and consistent voice give the songs too much uniformity, and they don’t really stand out from each other. Ironically, there are several that would pop out on a compilation.

Their attempts at other themes feel slight, especially twenty-five years: “Tina Turner” is just silly (“Tina Turner’s in town/With her knickers down”), and while I’m sure “Hand Ball” is an honest reaction to England’s 1986 World Cup loss to Argentina, today the ugly nationalism of the song seems at odds with the band’s punk mindset.

Welcome To The Real World was the band’s first album after a hiatus, and they’ve been through a lot both before and after that time. I’d still be interested in trying more of their music, but this doesn’t live up to the promise that several individual songs show.

Grade: C

Destroy-Oh-Boy! cover

New Bomb Turks – Destroy-Oh-Boy!

New Bomb Turks – Destroy-Oh-Boy!

The New Bomb Turks, on the other hand, have a lot of variety in their music. And even if the default sound on Destroy-Oh-Boy! is the simple youthful destruction of “Tattooed Apathetic Boys” and “Dragstrip Riot”, it doesn’t get repetitive. In fact, all of that is put into context by album opener “Born Toulouse-Lautrec”. With vocalist Eric Davidson’s declaration that “All work is honorable/Yeah art is just a job,” he twists a clichéd anti-elitist sentiment into a blue collar celebration. “I’m a worker, you’re a worker, would you like to be a worker too?” he concludes, putting the next fifteen tracks of anarchic chaos into perspective.

It’s a clever trick, though the band’s flashes of intelligence aren’t as frequent as I’d like. Most of the songs are fast and a bit formless, designed for bleeding into each other in concert. There is a sense of humor, though, in tracks like “Let’s Dress Up The Naked Truth” and “Cryin’ Into The Beer Of A Drunk Man”, and the songs that do change up the pace feel like crescendoes of a larger performance. (“Mr. Suit”, especially, is just a simple “fuck you” to the world around them with grinding riffs and a throbbing beat. But coming in the exact middle of the fast-paced album, it takes on an air of faux-sophistication that makes its angry lyrics more fun.)

The New Bomb Turks sound like they are doing exactly what they want, but what they want is to put on a performance with the occasional wink at the audience. That combination made them feel like a breath of fresh air in the punk scene at the time, and still works today.

Grade: B

Viewers Like You cover

Tilt – Viewers Like You

Tilt – Viewers Like You

Tilt, like The Business, has a habit of standing out in punk mixes. A female fronted band with acerbic intelligence and pop-punk sensibilities, they sound nothing like most of the bands in their angry, male-dominated scene. Also like The Business, they lose some of that edge in their own albums. Viewers Like You is a strong one, though. The band has their own twist on punk rock’s attempt to make you uncomfortable with the mainstream world: Their first two songs tell stories of women locked away for being independent (“Annie Segall”) and dying of an illegal abortion (“Die of Shame”). Not all their attacks hit the target: “Pious” questions religion in a way that sounds willfully ignorant more than clever, and the otherwise-hilarious “Mama’s Little Man” loses its momentum when they stop to reassure their audience that they don’t really like the KKK.

The music is solid and energetic, though, with a couple tracks that were just slightly too hard to become hits in the bubblegum-punk days of the late 1990s: “Want To Do” is a catchy anthem of teenage independence, and the title track is a fun attack on corporate television. Overall, the album is upbeat and bratty, made by and for restless youth. Covering everything from zombie servants to female role models, with a serious ode to a dead friend, Viewers Like You feels like an honest scrapbook from that point in the member’s lives. If it doesn’t always seem right to a grown man thirteen years later, well, it shouldn’t. But it’s still fun.

Grade: B-

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