Minefield of ‘War’-Weary Punk Rock Attitudes
With a tireless, Joe Strummer-like rasper for a lead singer, a brigade charge for an instrumental attack, and comradely sing-along choruses, U.S. Bombs is refighting the original punk rock revolution of 20 years ago with the same old ammo fired by such embattled rage-farmers as the Sex Pistols and the Clash.
The problem with “War Birth” isn’t the materiel--vintage punk’s sonic arsenal remains potent--but the material, which numbingly recycles petrified punk rock slogans and attitudes.
When it comes to setting a fuse under the ’77 punk sound, U.S. Bombs’ assemblage of thirtysomething veterans of Shattered Faith and other second-tier O.C. punk bands of the early ‘80s doesn’t fire many duds. But Rancid (whose singer, Tim Armstrong, heads Hellcat, a new Epitaph Records subsidiary) has shown that for retro-punk to come alive, the familiar styles must serve a highly personal songwriting approach that’s rich in storytelling and vividly evoked emotional experience.
That’s where U.S. Bombs fizzles. For the most part, the main songwriters, singer Duane Peters and guitarist Kerry Martinez, are satisfied with coupling the sounds of old with boilerplate punk-rock attitudes that come off sounding old, even if they still resonate. The band’s typical themes: up with alienation, down with authority and mainstream respectability, hurrah for the scuffling but plucky dead-end kids who don’t fit in and don’t have a chance, and aren’t-we-authentic- for-having-de-graded-ourselves- with-heroin-and-lived- to-sing-about-it. Without more flesh and feeling than U.S. Bombs provides, it’s all about stance and attitude, which may be enough to establish the band’s punk bona fides, but not its credibility as a songwriting ensemble with its own story to tell.
Most of the highlights come from the visceral impact of the music and bits of good, grousing humor, such as the Bombs’ modest proposal for relieving their home county’s conformist, consumerist blahs: “A 8.8 earthquake, that’s what we need.”
“Jaks” is a spirited ode to breakneck downhill skateboarders (the song gives pause in light of a local joy rider’s recent fatal skateboarding accident). “12/25,” a down-and-out-at-Christmas number, is a sort of wryly obnoxious punker’s equivalent of the great Merle Haggard lament, “If We Make It Through December,” and “Beetle Boot” downshifts with a good, dark rockabilly rumble.
In their album’s closer, the catchy misfit’s anthem, “No Company Town,” U.S. Bombs verge on self-parody by building an entire song out of tired punk buzzwords (“born in the middle of a useless generation . . . don’t wanna go past my fourth-grade education”). Punk rock had a vision in 1977, but substituting one company line for another probably wasn’t part of it.
Ratings range from * (poor) to **** (excellent), with three stars denoting a solid recommendation.
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