For legions of callow youth in the Eighties, learning more from a two minute record than they ever learned in school, DESCENDENTS filled a void of melancholy and emotion in angst-ridden teenage brains, before the term ’emo’ was ever thought up.
Beyond the visceral punches of CIRCLE JERKS or MINOR THREAT, or the ideological onslaught of CRASS or CONFLICT, there was always melody and emotion in early punk rock, but when hardcore took hold, some of that got stripped away.
So what the DESCENDENTS did was actually quite something, amidst the hardcore explosion of Southern California, standing shoulder to shoulder with their friends in bands like BLACK FLAG, they just wore their dork on their sleeve, and got away with it. But somehow it made perfect sense.
Here you have a 16 song LP (as well as the accompanying five song 12″ EP ‘Spazzhazard’, which also makes up the ‘Bonus Elements’ of the CD) and when it kicks off with ‘Feel This’, that sounds like it’s straight off ‘Everything Sucks’, it’s obvious you’re not in for any surprises, but also no disappointments.
The first three songs clock in under five minutes, and only three out of the nine on side one breach two minutes. ‘No Fat Burger’ hearkens right back to their early goof anthems, while the hit ‘Without Love’ showcases their prowess at the three-minute-pop top ten hits of an alternative universe, taking you right back to those youthful days strung out on Hope.
Side one closes with ‘Smile’, Milo’s ‘Cheer’ of the album, and I’d wager an ode to his old friend Bill Stevenson (along with ‘Comeback Kid’), whose significant health problems were documented in recent documentary ‘Filmage’. The song trails off to a close with “Toil away, and at the end of the day, you can look back at a game well played”.
On the flip, songs like ‘Fighting Myself’ could’ve come straight off ‘I Don’t Want to Grow Up’, adding that timeless quality the DESCENDENTS exude, although the overall message has now matured into a Pep Talk for middle-aged punk rockers, not that there’s anything wrong with growing with your audience.
And if you’re one of those people who never had time to go for ALL, but find yourself enjoying songs like ‘On Paper’ and ‘Spineless and Scarlet Red’, then maybe it’s time to revisit ‘Mass Nerder’, as there’s a distinct hint of the All-O-Gistic about them.
Like a hardcore call to arms, ‘Full Circle’ takes you through a word-search of L.A. punk rock; “I listened to the true sounds of adolescence and had no fear, just an alley cat, looking for some skank in the danger zone, and if I had one more minute, man, this is the last thing I wanna hear”.
After seemingly touching on their entire back catalogue for inspiration, the album closes out with ‘Beyond the Music’, a nostalgic look at their history and raison d’être of the band, hopefully with an eye on continued releases, and not yet another Dry Spell.