Review Summary: A groundbreaking, trendsetting album that falls a few songs short of an absoljute classic.
Some bands don't need a lenghty career to make an impact. Sometimes, one groundbreaking album is all it takes to put a band's name down in the annals of music history. This is especially true in the realm of punk rock, and one need look no further than albums such as Nevermind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols
or Germ Free Adolescents
for confirmation. To this list, one should also add the name of Californian ska-punkers Operation Ivy, whose lone 1990 outing, Energy
, was just as influential as the records cited above and, like them, eventually found cult status with a niche audience.
To a layman, unaware of the influence this group had on the ska-punk and hardcore scene of Southern California, Operation Ivy's main claims to fame will probably be the presence of a pre-Rancid Tim Armstrong on guitar (here known as Lint), and the fact that Knowledge
got (poorly) covered by now-infamous SoCal comrades Green Day. Hopefully, these credentials will be enough to persuade said interested party to look into Energy
, as they will find that the album is well worth their time.
Enhanced, over the years, with tracks from the band's debut EP, as well as a couple of loose compilation tracks, Energy
now sits at a seemingly hefty 27 songs. However, taking into consideration that the vast majority of these cuts clocks in at barely two minutes long, one quickly concludes that a run-through of Energy
will be far from a morose chore. And indeed, while not always of the highest calibre, the listening experience provided by this album is never anything less than satisfying.
The early goings of the album are particularly strong. Knowledge
opens hostilities, and gives the false impression that Operation Ivy are "just another" hardcore band; follow-up and first standout Sound System
, however, does away with that notion, and sees the SoCal four piece flex their ska chops to their fullest extent. Even singer Jesse Michaels - otherwise relentlessly frantic in his rallying cries - takes a momentary 'chill pill', delivering a relatively laid-back performance to top what is one of the best cuts on this album.
And while an extremely premature climax may lead the listener to think Operation Ivy blew their load much too soon, this is fortunately not the case. Instead of the uninspired filler that usually follows a high point in most records, songs such as Take Warning
, second standout The Crowd
, the irrepressible Bombshell
continue to keep the quality on high until well into the midway point of the album.
Unfortunately, with so many tracks, the record was bound to waver sometime, and at about the halfway point the songwriting takes a turn for the boring. The following few cuts are not bad - there is no such thing on Energy
- but they definitely do not hold the same level of interest of what came before. Tracks such as throwaway instrumental Smiling
or the misguided cover of These Boots Were Made For Walkin'
(here called [One Of these Days[/i]) add nothing to the album, and the sole oasis in this section comes from the jazzy horns and infectious chorus of Bad Town
, reportedly the first song written by the band, shortly after forming.
All in all, however, it seems the album is headed for a downfall. Before all hope is lost, however, in swoops Freeze-Up
to save the day with its ska stylings, and blissfully usher in the best section of the record. Operation Ivy seemingly adhere to the principle of "saving the best for last", as the final stretch of Energy
is where some of the best songs are contained. The tracks from the Hectic
EP, in particular, bring us some of the best moments on this re-release, with the irresistibly rebellious [i[Yellin' In My Ear[/i], Junkies Runnin' Dry
and Healthy Body
all constituting strong moments that sit well next to a gem like Missionary
, and minimise the effects of fillerish cuts like Sleep Long
As stated, however, none of these songs can really be declared 'weak'. Musicianship remains tight throughout - with bass player Matt Freeman edging out big-name Tim Armstrong as the standout performer - and Jesse Michaels's lyrics don't have anything wrong with them either, even if he does sound apologetic about his activism at times ("there's nothing wrong/with another unity song"
, he reasons on Unity
, before pleading for "just one political song"
further on). This is, then, one of those rare cases where all the pieces come together perfectly, and were it not for a somewhat bland mid-section, Energy
would be even more of a classic. As it is, it remains a groundbreaking album, worthy of a place in any hardcore-punk or ska-punk aficionado.
Yellin' In My Ear