Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Album: The Adolescents
Frontier Records, 1981
Although the Adolescents are considered a classic band of the early 80's West Coast punk scene, outside of punk cirles, they've never acheived the same level of recognition as their peers Black Flag, Minor Threat and the Dead Kennedys - to name a few. That's despite the fact that this, their first and best album, was recorded and released before Black Flag's masterpiece Damaged and Minor Threat's first EP. It also easily predates the first proper releases by their venerated Orange County peers Social Distortion, DC's seminal Bad Brians and L.A.'s Descendents. The list could go on, but my point is simply that though the Adolescents were influenced by all these bands, they mastered and honed the style, recorded it and sent it out into the world while many of the groups who touched off the hardcore movement were still just beginning to get their shit together.
On the surface, The Adolescents sounds exactly like you'd expect from early hardcore - simple, fast and loud. But a closer attention to detail reveals that even as the hardcore was only beginning to define its identity, the Adolescents were already pushing its boundaries. Their arrangements are far more complex than the three-chord constructions of their contemporaries, and their songs are augmented with slower sections and even guitar solos, both big no-no's in the original hardcore rulebook.
But despite that, The Adolescents don't sound like a proto-punk band still filtering out the excesses of arena rock - the complexity never seems self-indulgent and never takes the focus off the music's loud-fast core. The Adolescents sound like a band that has fully grasped the essence of hardcore punk and its implications and moved on to expand its horizons, all by 1981.
Nor do they sound like a punk band that has overthought its sound and lost its spirit. The truly "adolescent" yell of Tony Cadena (who was just 18 at the album's release) is geniune.
The album gets off on the right foot with the opener "I Hate Children" (final line: "Kill all children dead!"). Anthems like "No Way" and the more lyrically thoughtful "Ameoba" are classics. The common themes like rejection by peers ("No Friends," "Creatures") and political repression ("Democracy") make plenty of appearances, but they stand alongside more personal lyrics. The anguished chorus of "Who Is Who" proclaims "the walls are closing in on me / I don't know what to do," while the fictional drug addict in "Self Destruct" admits "Crying, I'm sorry, I'm out of my head."
The album's true peak is its centerpiece "Kids of the Black Hole," a whopping five-minute track that despite its length, doesn't back off the high-speed attack of the rest of the album. Lyrically, the song is a potent tale of the depravity of youth culture, taking to task both their peers and society as a whole for leaving an entire generation directionless, drug-dependent and without a future. Musically, a two-note lead sounds like Joy Division on speed, while a careful arrangement keeps the song interesting throughout its entire span - a good five times the length of most hardcore songs.
Years ahead of its time, Adolescents is an essential album of early 80's American punk. It's also a rare musical acheivement for its genre, one that could appeal to a broad audience far beyond hardcore's usual boundaries.