…Thus countercultural rebellion- rejecting the norms of mainstream society- came to serve as a source of considerable distinction. In a society that prizes individualism and despises conformity, being 'a rebel' becomes the new aspirational category. 'Dare to be different,' we are constantly told. In the ‘60s, becoming a beat or a hippie was a way of showing that you were not one of the squares or the suits. In the ‘80s, dressing like a punk or a goth was a way of showing that you were not one of the preppies or the yuppies. It was a way of visibly demonstrating one’s rejection of mainstream society, but it was also a tacit affirmation of one’s own superiority. It was a way of telegraphing the message that 'I, unlike you, have not been fooled by the system. I am not a mindless cog.'
The problem, of course, is that not everyone can be a rebel, for the same reason that not everyone can have class and not everyone can have good taste. If everyone joins the counterculture, then the counterculture simply becomes the culture. Then the rebel has to invent a new counterculture, in order to reestablish distinction.
-Joseph Heath & Andrew Potter, from The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t be Jammed
That’s right, the revolution will be televised. Sorry Mr. Heron. You will be able to see it on your iPod via podcast. You can TiVo it just in case you won’t be home in time to catch it. You can wait a day and download it for free off of YouTube. You can see it on a boat. You can see with a goat (and quite possibly with green eggs and ham if you like).
Bluntly put, the current paradigm of counterculture (broadly speaking the anti-globalization, anti-Bush, pro-animal rights movement) has begun to no longer become the “underground” that it has always hoped for. Michael Moore films reel in big dollars at the box office. Anarcho-syndicalists like Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein are frequented on the best-seller lists. Go to any magazine stand and you can pick up a copy of Adbusters
, today’s premiere “subversive” publication. Simply put, the “new black” is the one in which you can cut a star out of and place it over a red flag. Irony aside, this is not good for punk music.
Poor Strike Anywhere. The Richmond, Virginia quintet’s brand new release Dead FM
is loud and catchy and angry and all those wonderful things, but in light of what I’ve just stated above, subversive it is not. It constantly impounds that belief into the listener’s conscience, as nearly each track takes some sort of stand with the status quo and instituting key words and phrases amidst the lyrics like “exploited”, “choking”, “take back”, “release us”, and the always popular “fuc
As if it wasn’t obvious enough, Strike Anywhere would like for you to know their opinions on the world today, and that they, specifically, are against the system in pretty much every way. Strike Anywhere would also like you to know that they (according to the liner notes) use Pro-Mark Drumsticks, SJC Drums, SiT Strings, and Seymour-Duncan Pickups. You can also find their songs on various Tony Hawk video games.
Despite all this Dead FM
is about the songs tje,se;ves and in this manner, Strike Anywhere have (ironically, again) perfected the ideal cookie-cutter melodic hardcore album for today’s comrade on the go. All the songs and issues are here:
Song rallying against religion? Check. (How to Pray
Song decrying pop culture? Check. (Dead Hours
Liner notes explaining the “inspiration” for said songs, devolving into mini-apolitical rants? Double check.
Bleak colour scheme and graphics of tanks, political demonstrations, and decimated buildings on CD artwork? Oh boy howdy, you bet.
But of course, I’m being hard on the band. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no war-mongering redneck conservative as I’m mostly to the left of centre on the majority of issues, but, as I’ve ranted above, Strike Anywhere take their agenda almost a little gratuitously. Its unfortunate in this sense as their 2001 effort Change is a Sound
was a tight-knit package of explosive rage and raw, catchy punk. Songs like “Sunset on 32nd” and “Chalk Line” caught my attention like a protestor with a stolen police megaphone. But what happened since? Was it the move to Fat Wreck records from Jade Tree? The growing frustration to deal with their growing popularity, prompting a more “political” record? Or it simply just me, realizing that it has Strike Anywhere seem, well, kind of bland in relation to their contemporaries? They don’t got the musical chops like Propagandhi. They don’t have the selfless charm and humour (not to mention stage presence) of Nofx. Vocalist Thomas Barnett doesn’t have the vocal range and prowess of Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath. So seriously, what the fuc
k good are Strike Anywhere?
Well, if you’re Canadian you may know about Steelback Lager, the beer so cheap it comes in plastic bottles, and their slogan: “It is what it is”. Aesthetically, Dead FM
for all intents and purposes, is like a great cheap beer, the kind that satisfies your most primal needs. Stike Anywhere "is what it is".
The album opener, Sedition
breaks through with Barnett’s signature raspy scream and is certainly one of the more lyrically stronger and arguably more politically realistic tracks throughout the album’s course, as the singer details the calamity of the military-industrial complex, citing his grandfather’s participation in the Manhattan Project and referencing the 1984 Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, India.
The lyrics on the album haven’t been as poignant or as memorable as their past releases, particularly as a result of Strike Anywhere’s indulgence in the assurances of the counterculture, but the best tracks are the ones in which the hardline political rhetoric is loosened to make way for a broader and more introspective scope. Instinct
in this sense is quite possibly the best song on the album as it underpins the dark realities of domestic abuse and nostalgic lost years of suburban teenage life. With its slow and melodic intro, the song quickly picks up into high gear amidst a thunderous harmony of interwoven guitars and primal rhythms. Hollywood Cemetery
and Ballad of Bloody Run
are similar in this aspect as it reveals the personal disappoints of fallen heroes and simple punk culture (um, like back in the days of Crass). The latter even has a bouncy, almost folksy edge to it that, up to this point, has been unheard of in a Strike Anywhere song.
Musically, one may draw the parallels and find it odd that Strike Anywhere with their reliance on catchy melodies, shout-along gang vocals, and gracious but effective use of simply bashing out on major key chords makes them the new pedigree of arena rock, albeit with a punk edge. Though this more of a blessing than a curse as it more than makes up for the lyrical humdrums that Dead FM
presents. Guitarists, Matt Smith and Matt Sherwood, haven’t really strayed too much away from their effective formula seen on past albums and continue to work their stuff. Much of the guitarwork on this album is a tightly interwoven melange of machine gun melodies, searing riffage, and obtuse picking, with both guitarists spiraling in and out of each other’s parts and creating a seamless barrage of sound that works wonderfully with the tight rhythm section continually provided throughout. Prisoner Echoes
and Speak to Our Empty Pockets
are prime examples of this.
Elsewhere, Strike Anywhere is capable of simply achieving spectacular bursts of energy in the form of song, despite the heavy politics. Iron Trees
is the fastest and the most vicious song on the album in this respect, tearing through one’s headphones like rubber bullets through a peace sign. Gunpowder
meanwhile, prides itself in some solidly fast momentum, that can produce a cyclone from a punk circle.
But all in all, its hard to separate the music from the message and it remains that Dead FM
’s fatal flaw is the over-reliance on simplistic countercultural lyrics and ideas. Where Change is a Sound
and even Exit English
provided some great imagery and more concise and abstract concepts, Strike Anywhere opts to hit the listen with the hard stuff, and with greater magnitude.
In this manner, it reminds me of the Cold War, when a major facet (and subsequently criticism) of Western realist theory in global politics was that its dominance among society caused to become a packaged and easily consumable set of opinions and beliefs. Domineering conservative-style notions of how to deal with “dem Godless Cossacks” did not permit any new modes of thought and some political theorists since then have argued that it was a major factor in prolonging the 45-year crisis. Arguably, Strike Anywhere seem to be in the same boat as the counterculture is falling victim to the same fate of streamlining ideals and rhetoric that fall under “fuc
But who knows, maybe like cheap beer, Strike Anywhere may ripen with age. Wait, beer doesn’t do that. Goddamit, nevermind.
Final rating: 3/5
“Speak to Out Empty Pockets”
“Ballad of Bloody Run”