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Descendents - Topic

Bonus Fat Play

So-called because of the two bonus tracks that surfaced on this reissue of Fat, specifically the two sides from the group's original single, "Ride the Wild"/"It's a Hectic World." Aukerman hadn't joined the group yet, while the music is actually gentle, surf-inspired power pop more than anything else. "Ride the Wild" is a classic enough lament over a lyin' girl with Navetta's semi-tremolo twang doing what it can, vocals left down in the mix. "It's a Hectic World," meanwhile, is even more explicitly surfy in ways, but with a nervous, flat new wave edge to it as well -- not quite Devo if they grew up on the coast, but there's something to that comparison. ~ Ned Raggett, Rovi

Everything Sucks Play

To hear it told, the reason why yet another Descendents reunion happened might have been because Epitaph wasn't going to sign All on their own. Then again, it all depends on who one talks to. Regardless of rationale or the nagging suspicion that the mid-'90s breakthrough of Green Day and the Offspring was the only reason this album got recorded, one fact remains: take this out of its surrounding context and this was and is a prime Descendents album. All the humor and heart-on-sleeve showcasing one could hope for are here, and if the band is essentially just All with Aukerman back on vocals, said band had been playing the old Descendents classics for long enough to know their way around great pop-punk, straight up. Aukerman's not the snot-nosed brat from Milo Goes to College anymore, of course, but as the logical continuation of his half-goofy/half-emotional persona from the mid-'80s he's more than fine. All it takes to demonstrate that is to hear the great, affecting "I'm the One," a perfect tug-the-heartstrings hooky roar, immediately followed by the half-minute long jokey romp "Coffee Mug." All the band members write one thing or another throughout, an admirable democracy that follows the everyone-does-something approach found on earlier albums, and the hits outweigh the misses -- anyone dismissing this as just like any other pop-punk around misses the point that these characters helped found it as much as anyone! That the Descendents aren't interested in simply rehashing the past comes up more than once. Consider "Caught," which uses certain allegations about President Clinton (at least the earlier ones) as a starting point on responsibility and truth, and the just wistful and wondering enough "When I Get Old" ("will I still hate the cops/and have no class?"). A welcome, wonderful return to action. ~ Ned Raggett, Rovi

All Play

Just when the Descendents were thought to have gone to the world of bands who've passed their prime, they return with All. With this record, not only are they forgiven for the bad spots to be found on here -- it's not like they can't be skipped over -- but their last release (Enjoy) will be forgotten. With some of their best material, all dealing with the traumas of a broken relationship -- "Collidge" and "Clean Sheets," for example -- these guys prove that the most creative music comes out of personal tragedy. And as for the tearjearker "Pep Talk," it's a felony that this song wasn't included on their "best-of" album, Somery. ~ Mike DaRonco, Rovi

Enjoy! Play

Highbrow humor was never a signature of the Descendents, but the toilet-themed album Enjoy is a bit much. The "song list" on the back cover, along with a graphic of a hand reaching for an empty roll of toilet paper, is comprised of various euphemisms for one's fecal product ("floater," "sausage," "loaf", etc). To accompany the choice of album art, two songs on the album, "Orgofart" and the title track, feature samples of band members cheering each other on as they fart into a tape recorder. "Enjoy!" is a ditty of the celebration of bodily outputs, accompanied by said recordings. "Days Are Blood," "Hurtin' Crew," and "Orgo 51" showcase the band performing in a much darker, more metallic style. These are disposable tracks for the most part, except for "Hurtin' Crew," which wound up on the Descendents' best-of album Somery. The best evidence of the newer sound was a version of another poppy breakup song, the Beach Boys' "Wendy."
Even as the band underwent changes in sound and membership, some great tunes that are central to the Descendents' pantheon were recorded. "Kids on Coffee" reiterated the loud-punks-on-caffeine jitteriness of the first album, and "Sour Grapes" is a story of the ever romantically frustrated geek as he tries to pick up a new wave girl. The album is a fine metaphor for the history of the Descendents; no matter what turbulence befell the band, some excellent songs were still able to seep through anything that clogged. ~ Jeremy Salmon, Rovi

Milo Goes to College Play

And indeed, since he was heading off to do just that, the Descendents bowed out the earliest phase of its existence with another collection of blink-and-you'll-miss-it songs about life, love, girls, losers, and, of course, food. Starting with the classic rip-and-riff of "Myage," which started a long-standing trend of Descendents songs ending with "-age," the four-piece pureed everything it loved -- pop hooks, punk and hardcore thrash, and whatever else it enjoyed -- and came up with an unpretentious, catchy winner. The playing of the core band is even better than before, never mistaking increased skill with needing to show off; the Lombardo/Stevenson rhythm section is in perfect sync, while Navetta provides the corrosive power. Add in Aukerman's in-your-face hilarity and f*ck-off stance, and it's punk rock that wears both its adolescence and brains on its sleeve. Aukerman lets his heart slip through more than once amid all the hilarious descriptions and putdowns, like the slow-burn introduction to "Catalina," with Navetta's guitar the perfect snarling counterpoint. There are a couple of moments where the band's young age is all too obvious -- the trendoids slammed in "Loser" deserve the total trashing given, but the casual homophobia is unfortunate no matter where you stand. As for "Kabuki Girl," you've got to wonder. Generally, though, this is smart, sly music and words coming from people interested in creating their own lives and style as opposed to following trends. There's "Tonyage," another rant against punk/new wave wannabes who "were all surfers last year"; the wise-in-advance-of-its-years "I'm Not a Punk," perhaps the band's greatest song; and the power-singalong "Suburban Home," with its spoken-word start and ending, "I want to be stereotyped, I want to be classified!" The music never stops, neither does the energy -- an instant party album of its own kind. ~ Ned Raggett, Rovi

Cool to Be You Play

Released in 2004, Cool to Be You is the first Descendents album since Everything Sucks was issued in 1996. Luckily, the only thing that has changed about the band is their switching of record labels from Epitaph to Fat Wreck Chords. Milo Aukerman, Bill Stevenson, Karl Alvarez, and Stephen Egerton continue to spit out hook-laden pop-punk with the energy and humor they have been known for since the early '80s. Like the Ramones before them, the Descendents' overall sound tends to be interchangeable, in the best possible way, with previous efforts. Why mess with a good thing? For instance, among these 14 tracks, "Nothing With You" can be compared to "Clean Sheets," while "Cool to Be You" and "Mass Nerder" are anthems à la "I'm Not a Loser" and "I Don't Want to Grow Up." One slight variation is the first overtly political tune the band has ever attempted, which finds them addressing (dare it be said) more adult-oriented themes! Written by Alvarez, "'Merican" opts out of a CNN/Rage Against the Machine dictatorial harangue about specifics and instead chooses to sum up the current world situation, and the U.S.A.'s involvement in it, by celebrating the positive (Otis Redding, Duke Ellington, Walt Whitman) and damning the negative (slavery, Joe McCarthy, Ku Klux Klan). The approach is personal, righteous, and even patriotic, but not preachy. Still, Cool to Be You as a whole is soaking in the Descendents' realism and positivism -- their most enduring traits -- and as the lyrics on "Dry Spell" bluntly state, "Life's just a series of lows and highs." And by the way, they did include a song that happily combines their love of both spicy food and lavatory humor: "Blast Off." ~ Al Campbell, Rovi

I Don't Want to Grow Up Play

What's to be expected given the title track, with a hilarious 'nyah nyah!' line on top of the chorus! Give a closer ear to the song, though -- where the reason not to grow up is that it might "mean being like you" -- and the band's core message of having fun and dealing with things as best one can in a stupid society is still there. When the four want to be straight up and perfectly poppy, they can and do with smashing success, with surprisingly mature, emotional lyrics and playing that doesn't rely on all-speed all the time. "Can't Go Back" is a great lost power-pop classic, with some of Aukerman's best singing, a wonderful chorus and a tuneful reflection on not reliving past mistakes. "Christmas Vacation" is another winner, a heartfelt and sharp depiction of a relationship on the skids with some great, melancholy harmonies, while "My World" draws on Aukerman's college years with a tale of personal frustration in an unfamiliar locale, all while rocking hard and strong. For all this there's ridiculous humor everywhere -- thus "Pervert," which is at once frank and funny, saying "I'd hate to think that romance is just a pose/But all I want to do is rip off your clothes." "Rockstar," which immediately follows, is a hyperspeed trashing that's the understandable sequel to "Loser," demolishing the title character with a series of brief putdowns before concluding with a drawled "Let's exploit rock and roll to its fullest potential." But of course. ~ Ned Raggett, Rovi

'Merican [EP] Play

After a seven-year hiatus, punk-pop pioneers the Descendents return with 'Merican, a solid five-song EP that picks up where the band left with 1996's Everything Sucks. The group's first release on Fat Wreck Chords, after a short tenure with Epitaph, finds Milo Aukerman, Bill Stevenson, Stephen Egerton, and Karl Alvarez revisiting the timeless lovelorn attack of cherished songs from their past like "Wendy," "Clean Sheets," and "Silly Girl" on the disc-opener, "Nothing With You." Made whole with an infectious chorus, unrelenting rhythms, and a buoyant guitar, the song gives way to the ferocious title cut, which harks back to vintage Bad Religion as it explores the black marks on America's history, from slavery to Vietnam. But such sociopolitical commentary is rare from the 'Dents, who downshift to the palatable midtempo number "Here With Me," which eventually gives way the manic, spastic "I Quit," a nervous, edgy "Catalina"-like throwback. Only the closing instrumental, a hidden number without an official title, is worth skipping, as it drags in a way that no Descendents number has a right to. ~ John D. Luerssen, Rovi

Two Things at Once (Milo Goes to College/Bonus Fat) Play

Just like the title says, this album complies Milo Goes to College and the Bonus Fat EP, both of which are great releases, conveniently packaged on one record. All that mischievous teenage skaters could appreciate is here, classics like "Myage," "I'm Not a Loser," "Bikeage," and "Hope." But for all those who already own their "best of" (Somery, which features the previously mentioned songs), other less-known hits such as "Marriage," "I'm Not a Punk," and "Catalina" are exclusive to this release. ~ Mike DaRonco, Rovi

Somery Play

Somery is an overview of the Descendents' SST records, drawing equally from each album released by that label. Although this means a handful of great songs from their best albums are missing, Somery nevertheless selects the highlights from their occasionally uneven records, making it a useful and comprehensive retrospective. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
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