Out Here

The Staggers
The Sights, The Sounds, The Fear and The Pain
(Haunted Town Records)

Remember Riot Squad? Anyone who spent much time at the now-defunct Orbit Room probably does, since they played countless all-ages afternoon gigs there, along with tons of similar shows at the Galaxy Club. Riot Squad was also usually on the bill when any old-school punk band came to town, such as Fear or The Misfits. The group kept its name out there, and its music too, releasing its debut album, Undying Breed, in 1995 and following that up with a self-titled album a couple of years later. Late last year, however, Riot Squad disappeared. Where did they go? Well, not anywhere, actually. Now known as The Staggers, the lineup is virtually identical, but everything has changed. Well, almost everything. OK, not much. While they have a new label (Chicago-based Haunted Town Records) to go along with their new name, The Sights, The Sounds, The Fear and The Pain is what the next Riot Squad album should've sounded like. The more things change...ah, you know the rest.

After all, the album retains singer-guitarist Joe Blow's horror-punk and science-fiction fascinations, which are readily apparent in songs such as "Last Man on Earth," the story of being the last survivor after a nuclear holocaust. That said, this album is far more melodic musically than previous efforts, and Blow's lyrics are more introspective and based in reality than those on either Undying Breed or Riot Squad. Instead of "2000 Maniacs" and "Dracula's Daughter," he writes about being at a family member's gravesite and of rejecting his upbringing and not leaving a 'legacy of hate' for himself or his son. It's a bit more mature than, say, "Eaters of the Dead" and all the other songs that showcase Blow's love for horror and B-movies on the earlier albums.

Of course, The Sights, The Sounds, The Fear and The Pain still takes many of its cues from The Misfits (Blow, at times, sounds like a Southern Glenn Danzig, without all the reverb and the posturing) and early oi!-punk groups like The Business. Still, it's not all the same-old, same-old. The album also shows tendencies toward Ennio Morricone-type spaghetti-Western music (the back cover of the disc is an early tip-off, featuring an image from 1964's Fistful of Dollars) with an absolutely engaging instrumental (written by guitarist Billy Blitz) called, appropriately, "Last Great Western." Later, an acoustic number at the end of the album ("Have a Drink") caps off the The Sights on a calm, warm note. But that's not quite the end: A pair of "hidden" Riot Squad demos round out the album, letting you remember Riot Squad even as The Staggers are giving you a reason to forget.

Yuval Weber