Out There

They don't need to grow up

Mass Nerder
ALL
Epitaph Records

When Milo Aukerman left the Descendents in 1987 to pursue a career as a microbiologist, it wasn't like the band couldn't carry on. Aukerman was the Yber-nerd, the spastic, horn-rimmed geek that embodied the band's lyrics of suburban alienation and romantic pitfalls; but his quitting wasn't like Jim Morrison's dying in a Paris bathtub. While Aukerman may have been the caffeinated mouthpiece, he only wrote about one-fourth of the material; the remaining Descendents--guitarist Stephen Egerton, bassist Karl Alvarez, and drummer Bill Stevenson--were all strong writers, capable of driving themselves to the coffee shop while Milo was at the library. And they didn't need Milo, that college student, to remind them of what they had been saying all (or ALL, as the name became) along: Girls suck, and guys suck even more for not understanding why.

The band is stuck in neutral even as they lurch forward; they've aged only three years in more than 20, proving that too much java turns the blood into formaldehyde. Although the juvenile sensibility that marked Descendents albums such as 1986's Enjoy! (a concept album built, not so loosely, around passing gas) has been mostly abandoned, that doesn't mean the band (which features Chad Price in Milo's place) has matured much. That's not a bad thing; it just means they would rather write songs about girls rather than politics or the environment or, well, anything. Mass Nerder's themes--especially on songs such as "Refrain" and "Until I Say So"--echo sentiments scrawled in high school yearbooks or on notes passed in the back of the classroom; what else is to be expected by musicians who once titled a record I Don't Want to Grow Up? The only time ALL really shows its age is when referencing former Oakland A's southpaw Vida Blue in the song, uh, "Vida Blue."

Cynics might suggest that a better title for the album would be Everything Still Sucks, and they'd be entirely justified. The differences between Mass Nerder and Everything Sucks (Aukerman's 1997 return to the Descendents, only to find nothing changed) are about as jarring as the difference between Tuesday and Wednesday. The only real deviation between the two albums is the vocals, and even O.J. attorney Barry Sheck would have trouble convincing anyone that Aukerman's broken-vocal-chord shout is that much different from Price's sandpaper holler. Complaining that an ALL album and a Descendents album sound the same misses the point; it's about as rational as complaining that Dr Pepper tastes the same in a can as it does in a bottle. The important thing is, it tastes good either way.

--Zac Crain

 
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