Tuesday, February 14, 2012
I could post about a bunch of old R & B and jazz nonsense, but since no one gives a shit, I'll write about punk rock, specifically the debut LP by the band known as the Adolescents. Originally released on the Frontier label in 1981, it made a big splash, especially in its hometown, becoming somewhat of what one shall term an "independent hit". I can't relay sales figures your way, but I'm willing to bet it sold in the 10s of 1,000s within its first few years. In fact, a quick Google search tells me that it still stands as second only to the Dead Kennedys' debut in Californian punk sales (I'm assuming such a list omits the nth-wave shenanigans of Green Day, NOFX, etc.). It also stands as one of the earliest and best full-length efforts by an American hardcore punk band, being beaten to the punch by (GI), Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables and Group Sex, but coming out before Damaged and the subsequent glut that followed (there was much gold in them thar glut, but glut it be).
The band was formed in 1979 in suburban Fullerton (part of the greater Orange County, I believe: the launchpad for 1960s conservatism as we know it, and one which bred a generation of monsters as they came of age in the late '70s), and released the excellent "Amoeba" 7" on Posh Boy soon thereafter. Along w/ compadres such as Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, they were one of the biggest draws on the HC scene, and the quality of this disc gives their popularity such justified weight. It's one of the best statements of Southern Californian teen-punk angst of its day, one which belies some major Germs damage in its sound, particularly the Darby-like snarl of singer Tony Cadena and the relentless riffing of guitarists Rikk and Frank Agnew.
The best albums of this particular genre - let's call it first-wave Southern Californian suburban punk - all possess a unique character not duplicated by their competition: (GI) has the aura of poetic, junked-out '70s suburban decadence within its grooves; Group Sex has the older and wiser(??) presence of Keith Morris in its midst, the album being lyrically smart-arsed and cynical, the music being upbeat, bouncy and often not sticking to a simple 4/4 beat (true words: its songs remain tough to master from a musician's perspective); Damaged possesses a darkness and grime which makes it anything but a good-time-vibes platter (even though I always have a good time when I hear it); Redd Kross's Born Innocent was a total gas, pure homage to white, suburban American culture at the dawn of the 1980s, but their schtick was more Seeds and Kiss than the Germs; and Milo Goes To College has the pop hooks a-plenty, but sounds like the apolitical/apathetic/sociopathic screaming of a spoilt obnoxious kid (hence, I like that one, too). There are others, but you get the idea.
Adolescents has the musical grounding, as noted, of the Germs which lays the basis of its sound, though for a teenaged band, they've got a surprisingly sophisticated (relatively speaking) depth of songwriting when it's warranted, especially so on tracks such as "Kids Of The Black Hole", the best track on the disc, an all-time fave punk platter of mine, and one which clocks in at nearly five and a half minutes, featuring several choruses, bridges, verses and guitar breaks within. Its mixture of tension/release - the build-up which surges into the next phase of the song - is something pretty goddamn magical. The "hit" track, "Amoeba", is nothing to sneeze at, either. It used to get a flogging on the 3PBS punk show back in the mid/late '80s, which is where I first heard it (and taped it: an item still in my possession). The Adolescents' songs were anthemic but never corny; you could raise your fist and bark it out, their music containing a real rock & roll dynamic lost on their lesser brethren (TSOL, Social Distortion, et al), most of whom always looked like posers in the making to me.
In between the anthemic material, there's a whole swag of short/fast/loud tracks such as "I Hate Children", "No Way", "Rip It Up" and "Democracy", none of which rewrite the book on punk rock as we know it, but at this embryonic stage, no one was looking at rewriting anything just yet. You don't hear this often, but I'm going to call the Adolescents pioneers, one of the earliest and the best at what they did. A mixture of musical chops, songwriting skills and the ability to pen a lyric which perfectly captures the spirit of the time was and is a rare combination. For one LP, at least, the band had all three. Tony Cadena was a great vocalist and frontman, too, his essence being an unusual mix of OC punk thug out to destroy, combined w/ the soul of a sulky but sensitive screwed-up kid. Let's call it a Darby Crash/Jack Grisham hybrid, at least for now.
The band fell apart pretty soon after the release of the album: Rikk Agnew split from the group, joined Christian Death and released some screwy yet highly-rated solo discs (I'm yet to hear them, though friends rate them favourably); Casey Royer formed and fronted the shitawful D.I.; Cadena started the Abandoned then later the Flower Leperds, a band who got much favourable coverage via Flipside during their reign, though again, their sounds have not graced my ears.
The band reformed in '86 for the first of many times, but that's another, and far less interesting, story. The original incarnation of the band, or at least the one who wrote, performed and recorded Adolescents, had something good going for a brief while. It had the life span of a carton of milk, naturally, but that's hardcore for you.