Gobbing On Empires


Call it the Year of the Punk Rock Opera. Green Day surprised everyone when, five days after debuting theirs in its entirety at the Henry Fonda Theater in L.A., American Idiot took an eyeblink to sell 266,637 copies and hit No. 1 on the album charts. Sure, it overreaches (Roman-numbered song suite, glockenspiels . . . danger danger), but "Are We the Waiting," "Tales of Another Broken Home" and the title track were much-needed pipe bombs up DUH-bya’s prissy ass-crack. Bad Religion reached even further on The Empire Strikes First, beginning with an instrumental overture leading right into the whiplash assault of "Sinister Rouge" and rarely letting go of your neck after that.


"Peace Now! This is what democracy looks like! This is what democracy sounds like!" Wait a minute, is this 1969? No, ’cause here comes that killer electro-guitar hook! Le Tigre’s "New Kicks" caught democracy in its most immediate form. In February 2003, the feminist disco-punk trio joined hundreds of thousands of anti-war protesters in New York City, taping the event on their minidisc recorder and sampling the chants for the song’s chorus, accenting it with snippets from celebrity anti-war speakers. "New Kicks" is more of a field recording à la "Give Peace a Chance" and L.T.’s own "Dyke March 2001" — none of the band’s voices were included on the final version. In fact, you could say that the lead singer of Le Tigre’s first major single of their major-label debut is co-sung by the Reverend Al Sharpton. How punk!


All or Nothing HC is one of the more ferocious bands to come out of the primordial Inland Empire soup that also birthed the Voodoo Glow Skulls. Its hardcore assault on "Essential Freedoms" is anchored by bottle-blond lead singer–lyricist Renae Bryant’s paint-rending soul-diva screams. (One wonders what dose of Tabasco she’d give to an Etta James or Irma Thomas blues belter!) Bryant’s day job as an educator shows — honestly, how many hardcore bands name-check FDR? — and seeing her incant this song live to an all-ages crowd of Corona punks, who yell the lyrics back to her ("Freedom of SPEECH! FEAR! WANT! WORSHIP!"), one gets hope that tomorrow’s defenders of the truth will have wide-open minds as well as terrific ’hawks.


"America, Fuck Yeah!," the hilarious, profanity-strewn machismo metal song from Team America: World Police, ought to (but won’t) be nominated for an Oscar. Punks at heart, directors Tre Parker and Matt Stone (South Park, Orgazmo) threaten just about every other country on the planet with "we’re gonna kick your mutherfuckin ass!" A good song to play at Arlington National Cemetery when the 3000th KIA from Iraq is buried.


Naked Aggression has had a long history on the SoCal political punk scene; true to their name, they originally formed "as a response" to the first Gulf War. Last July, they re-formed (minus their late guitarist Phil Suchomel) for an anti-war show at the Allen Theater in South Gate, dusting off their 1998 aggropolitik anthem "The Problem’s in Your Head," complete with "Bullshit! Fuck you!" yell ’n’ response. Three months later, at a cancer benefit for Soul Asylum bassist Karl Mueller, Bob Mould and Grant Hart of the seminal 1980s hardcore trio Hüsker Dü, took the small stage at Minneapolis’ Quest nightclub (formerly Prince’s Glam Slam) and performed "Hardly Getting Over It" from 1986’s Candy Apple Grey, a mournful psalm that, on a very personal level, captured the post-election stress trauma of many a goodhearted liberal ("Saw a friend walking by/I stopped him on the street to ask him how it went/All he did was cry.") This was two weeks before 11/2. Call it "hindsight toward the future."


"A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity To Be Free" is very much like its singer, the late folk-punk busker Elliott Smith: a pale, wispy, lazily strummed folk ditty musing about OD’ing on Easter afternoon before admitting "It’s so disappointing/First I’ll put it all down to luck/God knows why my country don’t give a fuck." What else is there to say about someone who predicted our death before his own?


U.S. Atrocity, the intense, two-song 7-inch EP from Boston old-skool unit The Profit$ was timed for release on March 20, 2004, the first anniversary of the bombing of Baghdad. The truly hellish shrieks from singers Adam $ and Erika Ransom on the title cut and "Baghdad" conjure up images of blasted limbs, decimated cities and the rolling thunder of precision-guided bombs, peppered with some heavily ’80s U.K. punk swagger ("Wot’s the price of misery? Wot’s the price o’ war?").


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