Music News

The Star Spangles

The word "punk" is like one of those pesky zombies in Night of the Living Dead: You kill it again and again, but it just won't die. Punk's death has been dragged out for the more than two decades since that winter of '78 when the Sex Pistols dissolved. The genre's premature obits were spilled across headlines for the next five years. Since then, bands have christened the nonsense term "post-punk" and flaunted the genre with spiked bracelets. Pardon the stretch, but this is how the Star Spangles have used their debut, Bazooka!!! -- to fire death blows at the zombified etymology of punk.

The four pimply gents on the cover sport an amalgamation of classic hammy-glammy stylings, replete with tattered suits and dyed black hair. But play a few seconds of the revved-up opener "I Live for Speed," and anyone who identifies with punk's divergent definitions will be quick to ditch their earliest Buzzcocks records. It's not the numbing four-chord bashing and inane lyrics ("Want a car that goes real fast/Can't get that without any cash") that presage this band's downfall. Rather, it's the blinding mediocrity. Ian Wilson's put-on snarls (r)ape decades of the genre's greats without a dollop of believable anger. Simply put, he's imitating people who care in a way that sounds like he doesn't.

But the Spangles keep firing anyway. Of Bazooka!!!'s 13 songs, only two break the three-minute mark, a tour de force of unintelligible gibberish, arrhythmic drum fills and tuneless gang shouts. It doesn't have the character of the in-your-fucking-face bad way that the Dolls championed. It doesn't come close. When the band seems to approach moments of stylistic clarity, they just as quickly lose it. Wilson offers his best karaoke Axl Rose diction and guitarist Tommy Volume (?!) oscillates between a C-rate Johnny Marr and a D-rate Johnny Thunders. If they have a collective idea, they express it with different languages.

But that's not even the Star Spangles' biggest misfire; once you scrape through their affected edifice, they don't say anything. Their "lyrical adaptation" of Hoodoo Gurus' "I Don't Want You Back" is microscopically adjusted as "I'll Get Her Back." Their cover of "Crime of the Century" doesn't have a crumb of Thunders' spirit. And that's where the Spangles lose all traces of meaning. That's where they bomb "punk" back to Webster's 1896 definition: "very poor and of low quality (adj.)." If that's not enough, hearing Wilson boast "Ain't got no money . . . Gonna be a star" on a record issued by Capitol Records makes him the poster boy for Webster's 1596 definition: "prostitute (n.)."

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Nate Cavalieri