Friday, January 21, 2011

D Generation - No Lunch (Sony, 1996)

One part post New York Dolls sleaze rock and one part Dead Boys-ish urban punk n’ roll, D Generation was doomed from the get-go. Formed in 1991, a.k.a. The Year Glam Died, the New York City band had everything on its side except timing. As other glam-influenced groups were cutting their hair and hopping on the alterna-grunge gravy train or simply disappearing from the face of the Earth altogether, D Gen went all-in. Against great odds the band scored a major label deal – its hit-worthy hooks and blow-‘em-away live show enough to overcome The Industry’s sudden shunning of all things glam. The band would part ways with EMI/Capitol after one woefully misproduced and commercially failed LP and subsequently land at Columbia Records. Mass adulation and significant unit-shifting were not in the cards this time, either. But at the very least, the group got the opportunity to work with a strong, sympathetic producer – one Ric Ocasek. The D Gen/Ocasek collaboration, seemingly an odd coupling, yielded one of the greatest punk rock n’ roll records this world has ever known.

No Lunch may have been five years ahead of its time, or twenty years behind it. Like some unholy bastard spawn of Young, Loud and Snotty, Appetite for Destruction, and Give ‘Em Enough Rope, the album combines gritty hard rock, snarling old style punk, and a flair for melody that you could have called “commercial” in any time period besides the late '90s. It’s pointless to lament that none of these songs were hits – this after all being the year of 311, Sublime, and Bush. Suffice it to say that tracks like “Capital Offender”, “She Stands There”, and “Waiting for the Next Big Parade” could have been huge, and probably would have been in 1979 or even 2003. Featuring four songs re-recorded from the band’s first album plus eight new ones, No Lunch perfectly integrates D Gen’s scorching pedal-to-the-metal attack with the nuanced, melodic songwriting of singer Jesse Malin and guitarist Richard Bacchus. The self-titled LP featured incredible material (e.g. “Guitar Mafia”, “Wasted Years”), but it fell flat thanks to a production style more suited to a Stryper album. As No Lunch would prove, it was all an easy fix.

It was no surprise that someone with Ocasek’s industry savvy was going to mine the pop gold that was, say, “Capital Offender”. But where he really excelled as No Lunch’s producer was in letting D Gen cut loose and just be themselves. No Lunch is a hard-rocking punk n’ roll record first and foremost. Ocasek’s production accentuates the commercial hooks but doesn’t try to scrub clean the band’s raw edge. This is the closest D Gen would ever come to sounding “live” on record. Guitars and drums are pumped sky high in the mix, and there’s a reckless, destroy-all-comers energy in the playing that just wasn’t there on the first album. From the opening notes of “Scorch” to the final strains of the killer Reagan Youth cover “Degenerated”, the guys just tear it up. Bacchus and Danny Sage kick up a dual guitar firestorm like a couple of Cheetah Chromes, and Malin plays the proper rock star on vocals - his nasally tone unlikely to ever win him any voice competitions but his attitude cranked to 11. Red-hot tracks like “Frankie”, “No Way Out”, and “Too Lose” absolutely shred, providing the perfect yin to the yang of the album’s standout melody-driven numbers. On a lesser album, perfect pop songs like “She Stands There” and “Capital Offender” would make everything else sound like filler. But No Lunch kills from wire to wire. It’s the album that D Generation’s debut could have been. Funny how tunes re-recorded from the first album – “No Way Out”, “Frankie”, “Degenerated” – sound like much better songs on No Lunch. The “Degenerated” cover is particularly inspired, and rocks so ferociously that it seems the band may come bursting through your wall at any moment with guns a blazing. It closes the album with a proverbial bang – No Lunch is like a thrilling movie that saves its very best scene for the end.

D Generation would go on to do another fine album for Columbia, 1999’s sadly unheralded Through the Darkness. The band broke up that same year. Malin finally achieved fame in the early 2000s after re-inventing himself as a “singer/songwriter” and indulging his inner Neil Young. And while it was nice to see this talented individual finally “make it”, he was always at his best when he was fronting a full-blown rock n’ roll band. 15 years later, No Lunch sounds as good as ever and remains the best thing Malin has ever put his name on. Like other terrific groups of the same ilk (Hanoi Rocks, Dogs D’Amour), D Generation was probably too hard rock for the punks and too punk for the hard rockers. The alternative rock hit-makers of the mid-‘90s sure as hell didn’t know what to do with this band. They weren’t grunge. They weren’t ska. They weren’t “post-modern”. They didn’t cross over to AOR formats like Social Distortion or seize the Hot Topic demographic like The Offspring. While it’s a shame they only got to do three albums on a major, the fact that it was that many was slightly miraculous! D Generation’s eventual imitators only made the band’s demise seem all the more unfortunate. And when the likes of the White Stripes, Strokes, and Vines were living large in the heyday of “garage” revivalism, it was hard not to wish that D Gen would get back together and blow all those bands off the stage. If the silver lining of so many failed mid-’90s major label "alternative" acts is that you can still find a lot of really great albums for cheap in cut-out bins, then put No Lunch at the very top of your to-find list.

-Josh Rutledge


gunther said...

Wasn't "Degenerated" played at the end of "Airheads"?

Anonymous said...

So, what does the 'D' stand for Again? This band totally escsped me BACK IN THE DAY™ So its good that organizations like DIRTY SHEETS is around to keep reminding me that that dirty puddle is deep and full of unacknowledged diamonds. Thanks for reminding me Mr. Rutledge!

Rutledge said...

Indeed that song was played at the end of "Airheads"- if I recall it was the version from the D Gen self-titled album with Brendan Fraser's vocals dubbed in!

gunther said...

The "D" stands for either Diseased, Downtrodden or Doritos.