By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Honest Don's Lame-Ass Recordings
The second track, "Band," says it all and more: Were Hagfish, the band's third album, a CD single featuring just that one song, it would have been more than enough. "Band" is perhaps the most honest, most fully realized, most perfect song Hagfish has ever recorded; it's a mission statement, an admission of guilt, and, most of all, a love song to rock and roll. Over Zach Blair's constant, punk-but-just-this-side-of-metal riffing, George Reagan growl-sings about how he's nothing but a product of radio, the result of years spent with his ear to the speaker. That he became a musician was only inevitable, he explains: "Something got me and it will not let me go," Reagan repeats, again and again, explaining everything until the cliche sounds like the most rational explanation in the world. Then comes the chorus, when Reagan cuts loose with a rare, naked glee: "Rock rock sh-bop/Baby I'm starting to dance...Rock rock be-bop/Everybody's starting a band," he exhorts, throwing in Ramones references along the way, admitting thievery before anyone can call him on it.
It's the way he tosses in those sh-bops that wins you over to his side; it's retro in the right way, more 1957 than 1977 for a change. The first two times around, Hagfish seemed a well-intentioned band that had yet to define itself on its own terms; it was too much of everything (or All, more particularly, the Descendents offshoot that was never quite as good as the real thing) and too little of itself. Band members wore suits, played it loud and for the kids, and acted lewd and crude onstage even though the personas didn't match the people. The foursome--which also includes Donnie Blair on bass and Tony Barsotti on drums--was like some frat-rock version of punk, music made during a kegger. And though they adored the Descendents with fetishistic fervor, they lacked that band's thoughtful wit and genuine warmth: If Milo Aukerman was a smart, confused genius who nervously farted to break up the tension of more reflective moments, George Reagan is his younger, slightly slower brother who just likes the smell of his own gas.
In the end, Hagfish--produced by All's Bill Stevenson and Stephen Egerton after aborted sessions with a metal producer--is hardly more evolved than its predecessors. It's still chock-full of breakup songs and sexed-up juvenilia (if "Goes Down" doesn't spell it out for you, time to go back to elementary school), chewed up and spit out double-time; and one can only hope "Fruit" isn't a cheap, unintentional fag joke ("If I were a lesbian I'd want my girlfriend's friend"). But it's the thought that counts, and this time around, the boys don't just want to get into some groupie's leather pants. When everything is said and done, all George really wants to do is hold his lady friend's hand. If she doesn't slap him with it first.