Tuesday, December 16, 2014

IN PRAISE OF... SOME DESCENDENTS ALBUMS PEOPLE DON'T OFTEN PRAISE

What the fuck. Blogger tells me my visitation stats go up when I discuss PUNK ROCK, so I'll give the punters what they want. The past three months has seen my heavily revisiting the Descendents' mid- to late '80s catalogue, and if you can give me a reasonable explanation for this strange turn of events, outside of a pathetic midlife crisis, then you can inform my therapist. I can't quite pinpoint the exact moment when this all began, but you can possibly blame Spotify - that's right, blame Spotify for everything - and the random nature in which I frequently use its wares. The urge hit me, the urge became a daily compulsion, and lo and behold, within 2 weeks I had purchased, as a man of 42 years of age (getting awfully close to 43), the band's I Don't Want To Grow Up, Enjoy! and All LPs from 1985, '6 and '7, respectively.

Y' see, I had never actually owned any of these discs. I previously only owned Milo Goes To College, and that was it. My brother had/has the latter Descendents discs, and as I have explained time and again - as was the case with the Cramps and Ramones - when a sibling owns the catalogue of a certain artist when you're growing up, and you ingest said catalogue a lot during your formative years (enough for a lifetime, in some cases), it can take a good 20-year period before you wind up owning the records of your own will at a later date. Anyway, this is all very fucking fascinating - the crux of the matter is that I bought 'em, Greg Ginn can continue to get high off the sales and now I'd like to discuss 'em.


I Don't Want To Grow Up was originally released in 1985 on Watt/Boon's New Alliance label (later issued in 1987 on SST, when the imprint was sold to Ginn and co.), and was the band's first reformation album, after they went on hold for two years while Milo Aukerman went to college and drummer Bill Stevenson travelled and recorded like a man possessed with Black Flag. It's definitely a different sounds to its predecessors: Milo Goes To College possesses a raw, punchy garage-rock sound not unlike Angry Samoans (the 1981 Fat EP is an even rawer and more hardcore affair, an awesome slice of SoCal teen-punk damaged by Jealous Again), but the follow-up, certainly influenced by Stevenson's time in the 'Flag fold, saw the band develop a slightly 'heavier' and musically sluggish approach. Not that it's bad by any stretch, but the music's tempo sometimes sounds a tad askew, such as on the opener, 'Descendents' (am I wrong in saying that it sounds like the music has almost been cut at the wrong speed?). Anyway, this is by no means a turd on any level, featuring A-grade cuts like 'Can't Go Back', 'My World' (Milo channelling Loose Nut-era Hank there), 'Silly Girl', 'Good Good Things' and more. The one odd duck is 'In Love This way', which trades the heavy rifferama for a light twang and upbeat pop tune, recalling the band's roots ca. 1979 with their very embryonic 'Ride The Wild' 7" (when they were a Devo/Beach Boys-influenced New Wave band). Back in high school I thought the track in question sucked, even comparing it to The Smiths (the ultimate insult of the era), but that was a statement opined from a clueless teen and not an audio fact. I Don't Want To Grow Up is a good, good thing. I'm giving it a B+.


1986's Enjoy! was an even better thing, and certainly their most eclectic disc to date. The band's rampant misogyny and toilet humour went unabated and unchecked, and I'd be far less forgiving of some of the record's stupidity and lame fart jokes if the music itself wasn't so great. Milo Aukerman and Bill Stevenson remained in the band, as did guitarist Ray Cooper, and for the album they roped in Doug Carrion, who only ever played on this Descendents longplayer. Produced by Stevenson, it has a fairly dry sound with a super-tight rhythm section and a guitar which bleeds no warmth, but the almost tight-assed, sterile sound works to its advantage. There's some more metallic stews happenin' here, such as 'Hurtin' Crue', which sounds to me like more of a metal pisstake than the real thing, as well as mid-tempo Hard Rockers like 'Days Are Blood', which again saw Milo delving into a Rollinsesque life-is-pain schtick, the kind of thing which would be a riches of embarrassments in lesser hands, but in the case of mid '80s Descendents, it showed the world they were growing up. There's some primo New Wave-influenced punker aktion on display here - 'Get The Time' and '80s Girl' - and the cover of the Beach Boys' 'Wendy' is owned by the band, fitting in perfectly with the proceedings. Enjoy! remains an excellent example of  underground American rock & roll from the mid '80s. Amen. I'm giving it an A-.


For some, All is where everything went pear-shaped. Carrion and Cooper were out, and Stephen Egerton and Karl Alvarez were in. It was also the first album from the band to be released on the SST label at the time. After the disc's release (and a tour), Milo went back again to college, the band recruited Dag Nasty's Dave Smalley in as singer and they changed their name to All. All were too sugary-sweet for my likings: I saw them play here live in 1990 when they toured (with singer Scott Reynolds) and I thought they blew chunks, but that's a different story. By 1987, the band had transformed into something quite different. I recall this disc getting largely negative reviews at the time by the likes of Maximum Rock & Roll and Flipside, and I'm pretty sure that Byron Coley slagged it in Forced Exposure (he'd previously been a big supporter), and whilst All's sound is a thousand miles removed from the simplistic 4/4 punker angst of Milo Goes To College, it's mega-complex, muso-damaged approach is nothing to sneeze at. Then again, I never sneezed at Black Flag's Family Man LP - a record many people openly laughed at - and that's what this album largely resembles, albeit w/ a SoCal pop edge and no spoken-word segments breaking up proceedings. Egerton does an ace Ginn impersonation - that's probably why FLAG hired him to play leads just the other year -  and since Stevenson played on Family Man, his contribution is no stretch. Fact is, if any record is going to claim the throne of the great '80s Californian pop-punk jazz-metal disc, then All is it, and if you want to debate the point, the comments box is willing and available. A track like 'Van' is an obvious case in point. But for straight-up hooks, you also get 'Cameage', 'Coolidge' and the perennial 'Clean Sheets'. For heavier material there's 'Iceman' and the epic 'Schizophrenia'. What sounded like a stinker on legs 27 years ago - 27 fucking years ago! - sounds fresh to me. It sounds great to me. All is absolutely one of the best things they ever did, and I mean that. That's an A from me.

One thing to keep in mind regarding the Descendents is that, to ever-so-loosely paraphrase Winston Churchill: never before has a band so great inspired so many bands so horrible. I will lay the blame quite fairly and squarely at their doorstop for inspiring much of the crud which passed for pop-punk from the late '80s and beyond, especially the particularly virulent strains of Fat Records and Epitaph guff (they recorded two albums for the latter when reuniting in the '90s/'00s - 1996's Everything Sucks is actually pretty damn good), and for this reason they can be a tough band to recommend to those who, err, weren't there, man, because a first-time listen in the 21st century could be a frightening and possibly off-putting experience, especially for these three platters. But for veteran arseholes like, perhaps, you and me, they're worth reinvestigating and reappreciating, or, for those who never gave a shit about anything they did after their '82 debut, the eclectic brew of I Don't Want To Grow Up/Enjoy!/All are well worth sticking yer snout into.

2 comments:

Pig State Recon said...

I rank these LPs similarly. Later 80's Descendents discs hold up waaaay better than anyone could've have imagined back then. Have you seen Filmage yet? I've not yet, but intend to one day soon.

Anonymous said...

I watched Filmage tonight. 99 cents on Amazon Video (in the US). It's well-done and worth the time.