Every time I encounter a new hard-rocking band that’s breaking into the music scene, I can’t help but think of Sex Bob-Omb, that most beloved of fictional rock outfits. In the Scott Pilgrim movie, they went from playing living rooms and bars to literally blowing away their competition at the Battle of the Bands. All the while, their fans ask that all-important question:
“Do they rock? Or suck?”
Well, the distinction is a finer one than it seems. And with British punk-style bands, it’s not a simple either-or. What sets punk apart from almost every other kind of music is that it’s almost entirely visceral, emotional, and angsty. As a movement, it succeeded by attracting those who already felt that way; its individual bands stand or fall by carrying its fans along on those waves of energy. Even if a punk band has a moderate amount of talent, it just won’t make it far without capitalizing on the attitudes and feelings of its audience. Play well or not, success and failure ride on their ability to convince us they’re as punk as they think they are.
The Damn Vandals are one such band straddling the fence, hoping to land on the side of listener acclaim. Take a listen to the title track of their new single release, I Hate School:
Their UK origins can certainly be felt in most of their music, which has something of a Sex Pistols vibe to it. If the album name Rocket Out of London doesn’t conjure up something distinctly 70s in your mind, please take a remedial Britpunk class at the next opportunity. Of course, forty years of music history has changed that older sound a great deal. The DVs have something of an American influence as well, the huskiness of the vocals and the modern guitar quality evokes Pearl Jam’s Backspacer album, maybe even a little bit of grunge for flavor.
I really won’t waste my time trying to criticize the Vandals’ musical quality – even if I had complaints, it would hardly be very punk to acknowledge that kind of criticism. I actually did enjoy the tracks I listened to on that level, anyway. Where I would suggest a level of improvement would be in the lyrics. As much as it’s totally punk to hate school, there’s nothing really radical going on with that sentiment. Even the Beastie Boys’ famous “Fight for Your Right” was a parody of party and “attitude” songs dating back to the seventies – and the Beasties did it thirty years ago.
Ultimately, I can’t find any glaring mistakes in the DVs, but it would be nice to see just a little more innovation in themes that speak to today – is there no punk fire to be directed at social media, people who text constantly, or over-the-top political correctness? Instead, we’re left with a sentiment that any rebellious seven-year-old might echo. But this criticism may well be seen-it-all cynicism talking. If nothing else, the Vandals have made a valiant tribute to the nostalgia of the most anarchic age of British music and culture. That in itself deserves a listen!