December 15, 2005
Pennywise, The Fuse
Within the first few seconds of any given Pennywise record, I instantly
regret never having learned how to skateboard.
Somehow, just head-banging in front of my stereo never seems to do the
band’s music justice. For 16 years now, the Hermosa Beach skate-punkers
have been thrashing out Minor Threat-style hardcore punk rave-ups doused
with some of the biggest choruses this side of Southern California, and
delivered at a damn-the-torpedoes breakneck speed. Though their eighth
and most recent album, The Fuse, breaks little new musical territory, it
will undoubtedly leave listeners wondering if these Warped Tour veterans
do not suffer from a severe Red Bull addiction.
Indeed, album opener “Knocked Down,” with its double-time kick drums and
battering-ram bass lines, seems destined to appear on the next Tony Hawk
videogame. More than many of their SoCal punk-rock peers, Pennywise seem
to grow tighter with each record. Guitarist Fletcher Dragge fires
endless rounds of metal-tinged power-chord riffage, while drummer Byron
McMackin and bassist Randy Bradbury keep the rhythm tempo at a manic 430
b.p.m. All the while ringleader Jim Lindberg barks out impassioned,
call-to-arms agitprop lyrics like an unrelenting drill sergeant.
Though when taken at face value Lindberg’s lyrics often appear clunky
and overly simplistic (“Yell out in defiance!” “This is not the end!
Time heels time and again!”), his urgent, Greg Graffin-inspired delivery
transforms them into rousing anthems for the liberal disenfranchised.
Pennywise, like many of their fellow punk-rockers, clearly dread the
remaining three years of George W. Bush’s America. Of course Lindberg’s
lyrics work best when he singles out specific targets like Rupert
Murdoch (the long-overdue “Fox TV”), or the Iraq war (“18 Soldiers” and
“Premeditated Murder”) to spew his vitriol at.
Still, if Pennywise’s leftist politics don’t pull some listeners in, the
band’s insanely catchy hooks and Beach Boys style melodies surely will.
Songs like “Closer,” “Take a Look Around,” “The Kids,” and the
technology rant “Disconnect” serve as prime examples of their
shout-along, fist-to-the-air choruses which stick to your mouth like
peanut butter on your brain. Sure, Pennywise’s
all-power-chords-all-the-time mentality can become a tad repetitive
after a while, but at slightly over 40 minutes long The Fuse’s
admittedly limited musical scope never threatens to wear out its
welcome. More precisely, like a quick caffeine fix that wears off too
fast, Pennywise’s passionately pissed-off protest punk leaves tailspun
listeners panting for more.