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Punk Junk Food
by Gregg Shapiro

This article shared 2810 times since Wed Feb 12, 2003
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{**The Donnas @ Metro (773/549-0203) on Feb. 13

**Sum 41 @ The Riviera (773/275-6800) on Feb. 21 02.12 }

When I think back to the commercial breakthrough of the punk rock revival of the mid-1990s, I don't think about The Offspring or Green Day. One band in particular comes to mind, and that band is No Doubt. On their own commercial breakthrough, 1995's Tragic Kingdom, the SoCal band toned down their ska antics for a more punked-up new wave sound ('Excuse Me Mr.,' 'Hey You,' 'End It On This') which provided them with unprecedented success. I mention No Doubt because I think that the bands that have arrived in their wake owe them more than they might think. Take The Donnas for instance. Even on their indie Lookout Records releases, Gwen Stefani's influence (by way of Joan Jett) is palpable. There is a tough but tender quality, combined with a smirk and a snarl. Spend The Night (Atlantic), The Donnas' major-label debut, keeps it short and sweet, with a majority of the songs clocking in at the three-minute range. As cold and greasy as day-old pizza, the album rocks like Kiss without make-up. 'Well, I must have had too many Diet Cokes/'Cause I'm laughing at all your stupid jokes,' go the opening lyrics of the album's best track, 'All Messed Up.' The Donnas are more than just an all-female version of The Ramones, as they prove on 'Dirty Denim' and 'You Wanna Get Me High.' The unexpected piano sweep on 'I Don't Care (So There)' and the filtered drums on 'Too Bad About Your Girl' indicate that The Donnas are girls with an ear for experimentation. 'Take Me To The Backseat' could be the lip synch number of the year for a daring drag queen.

Speaking of drag queens, the limited edition bonus DVD includes a silly Andy Dick interview and other music video footage.

Speaking of The Offspring, of all the second and third generation punk bands to emulate, it's a pity that Sum 41 has chosen The Offspring. Their latest album, Does This Look Infected? (Island), begs the answer, 'No, but it sure sounds affected.' Slightly more polished than you might expect, Sum 41 makes one wonder just how polished a punk band should be. Lead singer Derick Whibley simply sounds too much like Dexter Holland for my taste. Teen angst and youth crises are hardly new territory and Sum 41 doesn't sound as if they've tried very hard to find a way to say something new on their third album of corporate punk.

Led by twin brothers Joel and Benji, one of whom has a spiky Tenaxed 'do and a lot of ink, Good Charlotte represent the Baltimore-area punk scene, which I imagine to be fairly small, on their second album The Young and the Hopeless (Epic). Good Charlotte has a knack for fast and furious punk riffs and their songs are an improvement on the ones by Sum 41. For example, they do a convincing job of tackling interesting subjects such as fathers who abandon their families ('The Story Of My Old Man' and the ballad 'Emotionless') and whining celebrities ('Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous'). Good Charlotte also has an ear for more commercial-sounding 'punk' pop tunes, as you can hear on 'Girls & Boys,' 'Riot Girl,' and the title track. Good Charlotte also gets their groove on with the surprisingly funky 'Say Anything.'

A female energy and perspective, like the one found on discs by The Donnas, also rocks From The Attic (RCA) by Damone. Owing more to fellow Massachusetts artist Juliana Hatfield than Gwen Stefani, there is a blasé quality to lead vocalist Noelle's approach to Damone's songs, giving her a measurable emotional distance. Even so, she sounds pissed off enough to kick Avril Lavigne's sorry ass on 'Frustrated Unnoticed.' 'The car wash kid' is itching for a fight on 'Your Girlfriends,' and she sounds like she could even take on all four of The Donnas on 'Feel Bad Vibe.' I'm a pacifist, so I also admire Noelle's slightly softer side on 'On My Mind,' 'Carwash Romance,' and 'You And I.'

Black City (Burning Heart/Epitaph) by Division of Laura Lee is the appropriate mix of the imported chilly garage sound of this Swedish quartet's homeland (think The Hives) and ominous punk rock sneer. Revved-up rockers such as 'Need To Get Some,' 'We've Been Planning This For Years,' 'Number One,' 'Access Identity,' and 'Second Rule Is,' establish D.O.L.L. as a fierce foursome to be reckoned with. They also appreciate diversity (think The Clash and The Meat Puppets), and ease up on the soothing 'I Guess I'm Healed' and the shattered dream of 'I Walk On Broken Glass.'

Almost defying categorization, The Get Up Kids open and close On A Wire (Vagrant/Heroes & Villains) with 'Overdue' and 'Hannah Hold On,' two of the loveliest acoustic pop songs you've ever heard. In between they conjure punk/new wavers Squeeze ('Stay Gone'), give a Farfisa a work-out on par with Mates of State ('The Worst Idea'), work themselves into a subtle funky lather ('Fall From Grace') and mostly reinvent themselves, which heightens the anticipation for the next album from this former Midwestern, now bi-coastal, band. The EP format just barely contains the Pacific Northwest fury of The Bangs on Call And Response (Kill Rock Stars). The double female vocals by Maggie Vail and Sarah Utter get their points across on the title track (a 'justified response' to mistreatment), 'New Scars' (secrets, hearts and, of course, scars), 'I Want More' (consumer culture), and 'Leave It Behind' (cheating lovers).

There is no shortage of variety when it comes to 21st century punk. Also keep in mind the Latino ska-punk of Voodoo Glow Skull on Steady As She Goes (Victory), the Brit glam-punk of Gay Dad on Transmission (Thirsty Ear/B-Unique) and The Get Up Kids' landsmen Ultimate Fakebook on Open Up and Say Awesome (Initial).

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