No one, a hundred or even twenty years from now, is going to mistake 1996 for 1977. But to those of us who were too absorbed in cartoons and Star Wars figures to even know that popular music existed in ’77, to those of us who were, as the Haloes put it, born too late, the mid-‘90s rebirth of classic punk rock was pretty fucking cool. Unlike the mass media appointed phony “punk revival” of two years prior, the old school punk renaissance circa ’96 was totally legit and totally grass roots. I was hooked in 1995 after buying a Spent Idols 7” I saw reviewed in Maximum Rocknroll. I was immediately intrigued when I first read about a band called the Dimestore Haloes in a zine put out by the lead singer of the Spent Idols. When, a year later, a local band called The Prostitutes had their first 7” released on a label based the whole way out in Costa Mesa, California, I knew something cool was starting to happen. And what did you know: that label, Pelado Records, soon put out a split single featuring…the Dimestore Haloes! It was all coming together. While I still dig the garage punk and Ramones-core that were all the rage in the mid-‘90s, there was something special about the likes of the Haloes, Prostitutes, Spent Idols, Bladder Bladder Bladder, and U.S. Bombs – groups that were flat-out ignoring the past two decades of musical “progress” and just playing punk music as if the calendar had never turned past 1977. It was an exciting time to be into underground punk – especially as nu metal and boy bands were leading commercial music right over the cliff.
If ’95-’96 was the ground zero point for the ’77 punk revival, then ’97 was the year it really hit its stride. The Prostitutes, U.S. Bombs, and Humpers all put out terrific albums. Pelado seemed to release a new 7” every week. And the Haloes, who had shown great promise on their first two singles, delivered a debut LP that did not disappoint. With clear nods to The Clash, Johnny Thunders, and the Rolling Stones, the Boston foursome came out swinging on up-tempo numbers “Cheap Red Wine God” and “Twentysomething Bad”, quickly introducing the world to their unique brand of sloppy punk n’roll. Singer/guitarist Chaz Matthews came on with classically snarling punk vocals but a lyrical bent in the tradition of Beat literature. Rarely has a band charged out of the gates with a mission statement as memorable and enthralling as “Cheap Red Wine God”’s opening verse:
I got a pale wasted white Keith Richards complexion
You don’t get this pretty through clean living, son
I got a guitar and a girl who’ve seen better days
The only exercise I ever get is the shakes
But I bob like life in a silent movie
I grease my hair, slip into something that moves me
If death is the inevitable end of this film
Then I’ll look so flash while I’m rotting within
Makes you want to listen to the rest of the album, doesn’t it?! Even if one of those lines was ripped verbatim from one Paul Westerberg, it’s still some freaking ferocious poetry! And from “Twentysomething Bad”, how about this brilliantly-succinct analysis of American culture circa 1996:
TV never taught me anything
Except how to change the channel or the clothes I’m wearing
High school never taught me anything
Except now the in-crowd carries guns
America eats its young
Bullseye! If there was one thing about the early Haloes that always made an impression, it was that lyrical boldness. In an age in which Joe Strummer’s line about “turning rebellion into money” had been fully fulfilled in the form of a corporate “alternative” music scene and youth apathy had risen to a cultural ideal, songs like “Twentysomething Bad”, “Hate My Generation”, and “Adrenaline” couldn’t have been any more socially relevant. And although Thrill City Crime Control as a whole isn’t really a “political” record, clearly here was a band that had at least something to say. While many punk n’ roll bands of the time were far more likely to wax poetic on beer, pussy, and how much they “rawked”, the Haloes recalled a time when punk music brought ideas to the table.
If the punkiest songs on the album (“Sickness”, “Hate My Generation”, “Twentysomething Bad”, “Heartbreak Gin”) all suggest what LAMF might have sounded like if Johnny Thunders had traded in his heroin for pep pills and gone into the studio with a severe head cold, that’s not exactly a bad thing. Moreoever, TCCC is not without its pleasant surprises – a lovingly rendered cover of “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, the soulful Stonesy ballad “Wingtip Blues”, and the deliberately-paced “Adrenaline” with its hints at the refined pop prowess of the Haloes’ later work. Listening to the best of the Haloes’ recordings, like 2005’s Ghosts of Saturday Night or the criminally underrated EP Long Ride to Nowhere, you hear the full realization of what the band was already shooting for on TCCC. Those irresistable lead guitar hooks, that punked-up take on ‘50s rock n’ roll, those anthemic choruses…It’s all there, just in a rawer form. Some of the band’s later incarnations may have been more “technically” proficient; but Matthews on guitar and vocals, Lorne Behrman on guitar, Marcus Arvan on bass, and the late Jimmy Reject on drums will always constitute the “classic” Haloes lineup in my mind. There was just something incredibly cool about getting this album and digging the band look (like a time machine collision between Ziggy Stardust and James Dean), the provocative lyrics, and the retro-sharp pink-and-black color scheme of the artwork. I’m not saying they were as good, but these guys were for me what The Clash and Sex Pistols had been for my older punk rock friends. From the instant I first played Thrill City to the moment they broke up, they were my band.
The heyday of old style punk revivalism would last a couple more years at least (Remember the Dead End Cruisers? Libertine? The Chemo Kids?). There may have been even better albums yet to come, and there were always new bands to love. But Thrill City Crime Control was always the one album that best epitomized the music scene that made my late 20s tolerable.