Punk rock got me through high school. Not the quivering-lip brigade currently masquerading as punk under the emo banner, but the real deal: late '70s British snot like the Pistols and the Clash and the American '80s hard-core response in the likes of Minor Threat and Black Flag. This was angry, dirty, visceral music, chaotic rants against boredom, Reagan and Thatcher with an out-of-tune hurricane as backing. It's either a testament to punk's greatness or its simplicity (or both) that the genre endures well into its fourth decade. For instance:
The Filthy Thieving Bastards were originally a side project of the Swingin' Utters, a tongue-in-cheek nod to the Pogues with a lot more volume and just a little less whiskey. But 2005's My Pappy Was a Pistol and the recent I'm a Son of a Gun showed the band to be far more than a part-time job. Songs such as "Phony Drunken Poet" and "A Killing on Wall Street" find the band advancing intellectually while still maintaining that signature punk roar. And singer Johnny Bonnel's intoxicated slur is the ideal voice for the Bastards' blend of folk and fuck.
New Jersey's Automatic 7 have been around since mid-'90s, fighting off comparisons to SoCal punk revivalists Green Day by basically not giving a shit. This feisty trio's recent opus, At Funeral Speed, is their first since 2001's Beggar's Life. In the interim, John Hulett, Nic Nifoussi and Phil Jaurigui have sharpened their focus and added several new wrinkles. Along with standard rants such as "All the Happiness You Can Buy," check out their raggedly charming cover of Springsteen's "Atlantic City."
From the reissue department come seminal releases from Eddie and the Hot Rods and The Dickies, bands from opposite sides of the Atlantic whose influence continues to resonate in disaffected youth everywhere. Teenage Depression, the Hot Rods' debut, doesn't sound as startling today as it did in 1977, but it's still a marvel. Vocalist Barrie Masters celebrated adolescent abandon like no other before him, clearly paving the way for the Damned and the Sex Pistols. With a dozen bonus tracks, this new version of Depression is ripe for rediscovery. The Incredible Shrinking Dickies is more problematic. Obnoxiously goofy, the Dickies were just a shade above (or below) a novelty act. Featuring punk deconstructions of everything from Sabbath's "Paranoid" to Paul Simon's "Sounds of Silence," their debut remains a high holy mess that still manages to carry a punch despite its cynical embrace of stupidity.
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And finally, there are The Wednesday Night Heroes, whose third effort, Guilty Pleasures, has recently made its way across the Canadian border. Unapologetically influenced by the legends of English punk, this unattractive quartet beat the hell out of standard fare like "Dead End Street" and "Shut Us Out" while remaining true to what has always made punk so vital: attitude.