Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Adolescents- self titled (Frontier Records, 1981)


I’ve put forth some questionable opinions in my day. I said the Dallas Cowboys should have drafted Tony Mandarich over Troy Aikman. I said reality TV was going to be a short-lived fad. I said Rudy Giuliani would coast to presidential election in 2008. I said Gary Cole deserved an Oscar nomination for Office Space (okay, I still believe that one). The point is that I’m prone to a lot of knee-jerk declarations that don’t pan out too well in the long run. It’s a defect in my brain chemistry. I was the guy who panned the debut albums of both The Daggers and the High Tension Wires. I was the guy who said The Office could never succeed as an American TV program. I was the guy who wanted the Eagles to trade Michael Vick for a 6th round draft pick last summer. But if I give myself time to really think something over, I usually get it right. The world at large may still disagree at first, but in time I’m always proven correct. I told you Donna was hotter than Jackie. I told you Hardee’s didn’t suck anymore. I told you Abe Vigoda was never going to die. I didn’t just blurt these things out. I meditated upon them at length. I did research. I pondered meticulously. Then I spoke up. Similarly, my choice for the third-greatest punk LP ever made was not hastily determined. I have been considering the point for a good 15, 16 years. I have listened to thousands of records. I have drawn detailed charts. I have consulted the Mayan prophecies. It’s all led me to the same conclusion: If the first two Ramones records are by default the top two punk albums of all-time, then #3 has got to be the 1981 debut by The Adolescents. Take it to the bank.

What I love about the Adolescents was that they occupied a very cool niche in punk history. They weren’t ’77 punk, and they weren’t hardcore punk. They were something perfectly in between. They had the catchy three-chord simplicity of early punk, but also a snotty attitude and ramped-up aggression that foreshadowed the arrival of hardcore. It wouldn’t be quite correct to say this band invented snotty teenage punk, but they’ve got to be considered one of the defining bands of the style. Formed in 1980 by 17-year-olds Steve Soto and Tony Cadena and featuring 16-year-old Frank Agnew on guitar, The Adolescents really were adolescents. The quick departure of original members John O’Donovan (guitar) and Peter Pan (drums) paved the way for the addition of a couple of scene veterans in ex Social Distortion players Rikk Agnew (Frank’s brother) and Casey Royer. The combination of Rikk Agnew’s skilled songwriting and Cadena’s attitude-laden, authentically teenage vocals proved hard to beat, and in short order the group powered out the classic single “Amoeba”. With its snarling vocals, ripping melodic guitar leads, and rousing sing-along chorus, it created a blueprint not just for The Adolescents but for Orange County punk as a whole. As synonymous with its time and place as “God Save the Queen” and “Blitzkrieg Bop” were to theirs, this song alone would have made legends of The Adolescents. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Adolescents (aka The Blue Album) is one of those rare debut LPs that plays like a best-of collection. In addition to “Amoeba”, songs like “Creatures”, “No Way”, “Wrecking Crew”, “Who Is Who”, and the near-epic “Kids of the Black Hole” are all bona fide classics that are still being copied today by up-and-coming punk groups who could only dream of being half this good. The group plays with the youthful abandon and slamming raw energy that are essential to this style of music, but one should not overlook the incredible skill that went into making the record. The guitar playing of the Agnew brothers- a hallmark of both The Adolescents in particular and the O.C. punk sound in general - mirrors the stylings of Johnny Thunders but kicks it up a notch. And the songwriting, largely credited to the elder Agnew, packs these hard-charging tunes with honest-to-goodness hooks! Cadena on vocals sounds so ferociously indignant that it’s almost shocking to see old video footage where he looks like a little kid (the way he sang, I always pictured a cross between Lemmy and Henry Rollins!). When people talk about all-time great vocal performances on punk rock albums, maybe they bring up Jake Burns on Inflammable Material or Jello Biafra on Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables or John Lydon on Never Mind the Bollocks. Rarely is Tony Cadena’s name brought up, but it damn well ought to be. From the first line of “I Hate Children” through the final raging strain of “Creatures”, he raises the standard for what “snotty” vocals are supposed to sound like.

While most adolescent punk rock is considered utterly disposable or at best charmingly juvenile, Adolescents is a remarkably enduring and transcendent recording. I was already in my mid-to-late 20s when I first heard it – long past the point where I held a “teenage” point of view. Even now, at the age of 40 and very much an average Joe, I find these songs exceptionally relevant to the human experience. If tunes like “No Way”, “L.A. Girl”, and “Creatures” articulate how fake and fickle society truly is, there’s no denying that’s truer than ever today. “I Hate Children” is still really fucking funny. And “Kids of the Black Hole”, in its candid critique of teenage hedonism run amok, comes off eerily prophetic in the context of our current culture. Most importantly, this remains some of the hottest and fiercest punk music ever committed to record. I would imagine that if you are a teenage punk struggling to find acceptance in the high school hierarchy and the world at large, cuts like “Who Is Who” and “Wrecking Crew” would become personal anthems the instant you heard them. And the great thing is that these are songs you’ll never need to “outgrow”. I listen to this album at the gym when I’m pulling heavy weight off the floor and at home when I’m cleaning the bathroom. It’s not just a classic punk LP but also one of the greatest albums of the past 30 years, period. And although there have been numerous reboots of The Adolescents franchise with varying lineups, they’ve never been able to quite recapture the magic of that first album. Then again, neither has anyone else.

-Josh Rutledge

20 comments:

shawnabnoxious said...

Sometmes when I'm watching a movie or listening to a certain record or even a specific song I have to pause. Take a moment of refrain to just take it all in.

It took seven or so stops before I could finish BORN INTO THIS.

So I just finished the first paragraph of this piece and I am in Refrain! Ruts, it takes a real person to admit that they COULD be wrong about everything but know enough concerning personal convictions that they won't be wrong about EVERYTHING....

It takes someone who is brave enough to be wrong about ANYTHING to be right about SOMETHING... Its bravery like that that causes my pauses. Well fucking done. Now maybe I can finish the rest of the article.

Whew.

shawnabnoxious said...

Ok. I'm done... and I can't help but to remember a special time in my life when Kenny Hussie was explaining to me why he only had an onion and 12 pack of beer in his fridge and how he shown me a shrine he made in his grandparents livingroom in a house only he was occupying at the time... It was a shrine to Darby Crash. As the blue album played and his dog Bullet whine to be let out from her cage to use the potty, we eached opened and finished a can of beer while KIDS OF THE BLACKHOLE played.

It was one of those few, but perfect, times.

Thanks for the highlighting of this Josh. Thanks for letting me have this memory.

I have subsequently charted this moment for futures prosterity.

gunther said...

I always thought Donna was the hotter one. What was your original beef with The Daggers' 1st album?

Rutledge said...

I don't remember the exact verbiage, but I'm sure it was something along the lines of "here's a band doing a second-rate formulaic version of a style that's been run into the ground lately" and "the songwriting just isn't quite there". New rule: I don't review any record I haven't played at least 25 times.

gunther said...

Of course, Backstabber Blues only needed one play to show its greatness. I owe Mike Frame a big thanks for sending me both Daggers discs.

Where there's an onion, Shawn, there's onion rings.

shawnabnoxious said...

Hey, Ruts... You takes markers and hash-mark yer records per listen too?

Wow, i thought only I did that... Thats why i like LP's more space to write on...

And where theres Onion Rings, theres my hypocritical and embarrassing diet there to laugh at and question. Its the price I pay for your laughter.

You are laughing right? Sheesh! If yer not laughing then why in the fuck am I even trying?

gunther said...

We talked about putting rings on Whoppers the other night, remember? Tried BK's new Outback-style dipping sauce? I made several family members laugh by calling Outback's blend "Roo Juice." On the subject of food, how were the Swedish Meatball subs?

Rutledge said...

Y'all are making it very hard for me to stick to my diet. Onion rings? Swedish meatball subs? Outback? I think I just gained back the eight pounds I've dropped just reading these posts. What's for lunch today? Mixed green salad with broccoli and albacore tuna and a Greek yougurt with blueberries. Boo!

gunther said...

I used to love tuna as a kid. Today, I consider it "bomb shelter food." Had another great meal last night at Dog-N-Burger Grille in Nawfuck. The damn bag was loaded with pepper-coated, krinkle-cut fries! Spilled a root beer on my friend, but he laughed it off.

Rutledge said...

I'll take a great burger and fries joint over "fine dining" any day of the week. My dream job is to take over hosting Man V. Food.

shawnabnoxious said...

Gunny, I will never forget our beautiful convo on onion-rings. I was do inspired that I dedicated a technique of esting a sandwich in your honor...

Look up my THE BIG DROP profile on Flickr or a link from my @shawnabnoxious twitter feed to learn how to 'gunther' a sandwich.

gunther said...

Thank you for bestowing this honor upon me, Shawn! I'll always "Gunther" my Buck Doubles from now on.

shawnabnoxious said...

I

KNOW


You will Gunny. (or Else!)

gunther said...

Guess what? The BK on Airline Blvd. in Pee Town no longer sells Buck Doubles. Is this a nationwide thing? No matter. I'll "Gunther" the other burgers.

Rutledge said...

Indeed, the Buck Double has been officially discontinued. They were losing money on it, and business is business.

Shawn Abnoxious said...

Yes, the one-dollar double cheesebuger, one of my 'power-foods' are getting harder to come by.

Good thing that it looks as if Kroger won't stop making Big-K (cola variety) anytime soon. In fact stores around here are rocking some snazzy new packaging. So take THAT Nostalgia!

Rutledge said...

I hereby challenge G to build an entire DS review around the topic of the discontinuation of the Buck Double. It can be done!

I really wish we had Krogers in PA. Our sm chains totally blow here. Then again, maybe I only like Kroger because they carry beer, which would be illegal for a grocery store in this fine state.

gunther said...

To quote Barney Stinson: "Challenge accepted!"

The closest Kroger to me is in Portsmouth. It replaced the former Churchland High School, which is where I served my 9th grade term.

Guess I'm forced to spend a little extra for BK's standard double...

Shawn Abnoxious said...

Gosh. KROG'S (as it is affectionatly called by comrades) is a fucking staple here in Cincinnati... I don't know how I could live without them.

Now THAT is some Loyalty!

...ending with DESPERATE BICYCLES lyrics:

I make the product.
I use the product.
I am the product.
I HATE THE PRODUCT!

If you haven't heard this band, you simply must.

gunther said...

I might have a DB CD somewhere in the pile. Maybe next to The Homosexuals.