Review Summary: It's deceptively easy to dismiss these songs as generic upon first listen. The timelessness and variety of the songs deserve recognition.
One Man Army is:
- too unpretentious to be favoured by critics
- too out of print to be frequently heard by genre enthusiasts
- too good to be understood by the popular songs alone
Despite these set backs they've been hugely influential. They rank among the best of modern street punk, equals (or greaterthans) to the Swingin' Utters, U.S. Bombs, or the Briggs.
It's deceptively easy to dismiss these songs as generic upon first listen. From a comfortable distance they would appear to offer nothing distinct from other street punk bands of modern times. Standard melodic guitar leads take turns with everyday life streams of perception, sung by a uniquely soothing voice. The vocals are probably the first thing a new listener would notice about the band. They present an unusually high range, often being push to the point of breaking. The words are delivered at inconsistent timing. Some phrases are emphasized, others being quickly mumbled into the remaining time or bleeding over into the chorus. Much of the lyrics therefore remain unclear, allowing the listener to fill in parts themselves, which is fitting with the theme of the album.
The album opens with a would be single 'Victoria', an ambiguous story of past comfort lost. Everything the band has to offer is contained within this track. From the opening guitar line, to singing that soars over the verse's muted guitar chords, eventually carried off anthematically by gang vocals to the chorus. The songs that follow mix up the formula put forward in 'Victoria'. Some songs emphasize the catchy pop qualities presenting the softer side of Jack's voice ('S.O.S.'), others show the thrashier side ('It's Empty'). The band always stays within the limitations of 'Victoria' while giving each track a mark of distinction from it (in terms of pace, mood, style). Tracks like 'Next Generation', 'Here We Are' show optimistic unity with the disenfranchised masses, while 'All Night Long', 'Leave Me Alone' are sung out of subjective alienation. Some songs display humour ('She Want Me Dead'), others being nihilistically defeating ('Have Nots & Heartbreak'). The songs always retain a melodic sing-along quality while never loosing the hint of sorrow held in the lyric's story.
Each song presents a different fragment of story from an unnamed subject. Different but similar themes are presented in the songs, a common thread of negativity binds them together. The complete story is usually too subjective to be clearly understood beyond emotions.
“In the city lights, on the outside, sharing lines, and empty bottles of good time, for the last time in Victoria”
“Out on the street, out in the cold, no one cares and nobody knows.”
“I feel like I could die here, killed by boredom. Holding the pieces, pieces of our lives here, wasted time.”
-Have Nots & Heartbreaks
The album climaxes with 'Rotting in the Doldrums'. After a brief instrumental intro the listener is hit with the band's greatest lyrical moment:
“Where ya running too? Did you hear the sirens? In your weakness hiding in the shadows. Oh no, you're already dead. It's on the T.V., in the paper. Will you surrender?”
The perspective on the previous songs has shifted from subjective emotional language to an objectified news report of some event without context. The subject of this could be any or all that narrated the previous songs. The personal observations and thoughts we've been shown on the album have come to some tragedy that the listener cannot possibly understand or gain emotional insight to due to the cold perspectivelessness of media, hence the album title. The narration simply halts and we are left with some ending that can never be understood.
'Sleeper' follows, a slow paced crawl back to the morning. Lyrically it sounds like waking up hungover without yesternight's memory, which holds some kind of symbolic symmetry with the confusion of the previous track. The descent into night is alluded to throughout songs and titles in the album, 'Rotting in the Doldrums' can be thought of as loss of consciousness and sleep, while 'Sleeper' can be thought of as awakening. The album itself can be said to be in sync with the shift of night to day.
One Man Army have managed to build an album so complex and conceptual with the simplified parts of street punk, that I can only assume that most of the message and imagery are lost on the unsuspecting critic and punk alike. Street punk's strength comes from it's honesty, it's beauty is uncorrupted by musicianship or expansion. The band succeeds in overcoming the sameness so prevalent in the genre, while not compromising it's strengths. After solidifying their style in previous releases, they have delivered a classic. This album has already achieved cult classic status (I think), the timelessness and variety of the songs deserve recognition.
'All Night Long'
'Rotting in the Doldrums'