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.


Pig State Recon said...

Good post - and "a big splash" indeed. For a moment there, THE ADOLESCENTS really were being pushed as a possible Next Big Thing in Los Angeles. In '80-'81, LA radio station KROQ could be heard playing "Amoeba" in light rotation - but rotation nonetheless! - passing em off like they were The B-52s or something. Sure, KROQ later would spin "novelty" punk songs (e.g. SUICIDAL TENDENCIES' "Institutionalized", THE VANDALS "Urban Struggle") for comedic effect later on in the 80's . . . but in '81, playing THE ADOLESCENTS during daylight hours meant something kinda for real.

Javi said...

Love the album. Loved the write-up, and agree with most of it, though I find myself enjoying some TSOL (particularly the 1st 12" and 1st 7" EPs) an D.I. (the Horse Bites Dog Cries LP has some really catchy songs on it) records. Better that than Offspring, innit? ;-)
Also found your selection of the truly good Southern California Punk records, though I'd throw (maybe on a lesser scale, since they might not be as "unique" as the ones listed, ok) the FEAR, AGENT ORANGE and SUICIDAL TENDENCIES debuts (C'mon, Dave, you dig those ones, don't you?). The Angry Samoans weren't bad either.

Dave said...

Aaaah, I'll admit to a weakness for TSOL's "Weathered Statues" EP, since I bought it when I was 15 and it has a few good songs on it. Other than that, I can't say I've heard anything of theirs I've particularly liked. Fear are kinda "fun" but really not very good, and that first LP has about 2 or 3 good songs, a pile of shit elsewhere and totally bogus mersh/HM production values which suck the life out of it. To me they were always a cartoon version of punk, and not a particularly funny nor musically interesting one, at that. I loved Suicidal Tendencies' first LP when I was 14. I hadn't heard it in about 20 years but bought a copy for $5 last year out of pure curiosity (sold my original LP many years back) and think it's still pretty fun and rockin'. I bought "Join The Army" when it first came out in 1987 and thought it was the biggest piece of shit I'd ever heard. I'll stand by that claim. And the 'Samoans, yes, I do like them, a lot.

Jimmy said...

I reckon there were a LOT of people who picked up 'Join the Army' & were massively let down by that stinker.

Sal Go said...

One of my all time favorites. I like to fantasize of Tony writing all the song lyrics during different highschool classes.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I've always thought highly of this record. Hard to believe they how young they were when they made it.

aycorn said...

Had a chance to see these guys a couple times in the mid-80's. The first time was a blast, but c. 87-88 they were transforming into a metal band. Bummer.