Friday, April 7, 2023

Buzz Kuts: All, Fastball, The Specials & The Suicide Machines (1998)

All's Mass Nerder
Reviews originally published as a “Buzz Kuts” column, Alt.Culture.Guide™, March 1998

Mass Nerder

One of the most enduring of punk icons, the All/Descendants conundrum is a lot like tag-team wrestling. For those of you having problems figuring out the players without a scorecard, look at it this way: All is the Descendants with Chad Price singing, while the Descendants are All with Milo Aukerman singing. Still confused? Okay, take the basic team of guitarist Stephen Egerton, bassist Karl Alvarez, and drummer Bill Stevenson. These guys hold the “World Heavyweight Punk Rock Tag Team Championship.” For hardcore death matches they tag in vocalist Milo and appear in the ring as the Descendants. For those nasty Colorado chainsaw cage matches they bring along singer Chad and kick ass as All. Still can’t figure it out? No matter…just run out and buy a copy of All’s Mass Nerder, a real shit-kickin’ collection of punk tunes guaranteed to blister the covering on your speakers and singe the hair on your ears. Delivering non-stop, no-frills punk rock with slightly more of an edge than the Descendants (probably due to the presence of Chad Price, a more guttural and less pop-inflected vocalist than Milo), All are punk legends and deservedly so. Mass Nerder is a dynamite album, perfect for parties or just bouncing off the walls. The Reverend sez “check it out!” (Epitaph Records)  

All The Pain Money Can Buy

Slide All The Pain Money Can Buy into your box and you’ll find a whole lotta pop come flyin’ back at you. A thoroughly engaging debut from this Georgia-based trio, Fastball fills All The Pain Money Can Buy with Beatlesque harmonies, a little Elvis Costello-like wordplay, the restless soul of Alex Chilton, and the ghosts of a dozen long-forgotten pop maestros from Buddy Holly to Don Dixon. The first single, “The Way” is an interesting and enjoyable slice of pop exotica, slightly-hollow vocals matched with Spanish inflected guitar. The rest of All The Pain Money Can Buy matches up to the opening track, every song full of wistful vocals, clever lyrics, charming melodies and infectious energy. “Better Than It Was”, “G.O.D. (Good Old Days)”, and “Sweetwater, Texas” stand out as radio-ready hits, but there’s really nothing terrible or disarming to be found here…just intelligent, good-natured pop/rock with figurative mile-wide grin and enough joyful abandon to fuel half-a-dozen bands. In Fastball the notoriously feeble A & R Department of Hollywood Records has found a keeper. (Hollywood Records)

The Specials' Guilty ‘Til Proved Innocent!
Guilty ‘Til Proved Innocent!

As any first-year college student can tell you, history tends to repeat itself, chasing its scaly tail in an eternal cycle. If there’s any justice in the cosmos at all, then the Specials will get to reap some of the multi-Platinum™ booty they so richly deserve. Sure, the band had a few moderate hits in the early ‘80s, but it seems that their time is coming around again, and if a washed-out, second-rate echo of a band like No Doubt can grab the brass ring, why not the Specials? One of the more important of the British two-tone bands, the Specials were, and are the literal and figurative godfathers of modern ska. As shown by Guilty ‘Til Proved Innocent!, the band’s latest musical triumph, there’s a lot of life left in these guys yet. With more honesty and sincerity than any so-called “underground band,” the Specials knock out an invigorating set of songs, incorporating pop, rock, punk, and even country (check out “Tears In My Beer”!) elements into their trademark ska rave-up. Hell, these guys are having so much fun with Guilty ‘Til Proved Innocent! that they end up running a couple of songs past the fifteen listed on the cover. After almost twenty years, the Specials sound as fresh and vital today as they did when I first heard them. I can think of no greater testament than that… (Way Cool / MCA Records)

Battle Hymns

Detroit’s Suicide Machines (formerly Jack Kevorkian & the Suicide Machines) may not be one of the better-known ska-punk outfits slam-dancing and stage-diving across America, but they may well be the most earnest. These guys blow-out the competition with nasty, wicked, razor-sharp guitar riffs, A-bomb rhythms, and more than a little full-stop ranking. Battle Hymns, their second major/minor label effort overflows with the sort of manic frenzy that the Machines show on-stage. From the ringing opening chords of “Someone” to the final orgasmic notes of “Jah”, the Suicide Machines deliver on their promise, kicking out twenty-two fast n’ furious ska-punk tunes chock-full of metallic fervor and relentless energy. Battle Hymns is hairy-knuckle hardcore rock for guys and gals with the balls to enjoy it. (Hollywood Records)

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