Review Summary: Ignore the first two tracks, and enjoy a visceral and brutal trip to the underbelly of Los Angeles, created by the most genuine and raw band of recent times.
There is a moment in The Shawshank Redemption where Tim Robbins explains to Morgan Freeman that it is music that keeps him sane. That the strains of Mozart remind him there is more to life than the walls that constrict him, that there is beauty in the world beyond what we know and understand.
Now, unfortunately life isn’t a movie, and the Bronx sure as hell aren’t Mozart’s orchestra. However, the principle is the same. The Bronx are a gateway to another world, one where even the light at the end of the tunnel is tainted with a neon glow, belying the sleaze and corruption just below the surface. Their message may not be particularly hopeful, but The Bronx are as real as they come, and it shows.
There is just one minor flaw. What the hell were they thinking for the first two tracks? Senor Hombre De Tamale is a near unforgivable error of judgment, and will leave those who bought this on the strength of the first Bronx album wondering if they have made a serious mistake. Small Stone is slightly better, but for all its ferociousness it still doesn’t have the same impact as the opening moments of Heart Attack American.
After this however, there is a punk album of almost complete perfection. Barely a moment is not injected with the ruthless brutality and raw power that The Bronx have made their own. This is real punk, and far cry from pretenders such as Green Day and the Offspring.
The band surpass themselves. No, none of them are going to rewrite the rules of their instrument, but the soul and passion conveyed by every member of the band is more than the glut of ‘emo’ bands that are currently storming the charts can manage in their entirety. Listen to Matt Caughthran’s pained vocals on Dirty Leaves, and his guttural howl which ends Around the Horn. Joby’s loose and biting guitar playing creates a mean streak in the music, turning Rape Zombies and White Guilt into almost cruel comments on their subject matter. The rhythm section provides the perfect base for the lead players, subverting common patterns to lend the songs a unique yet familiar feel.
As for production, the fact that each song is recorded practically live with as few overdubs as humanly possible means each song feels real. This might as well be a superlative live recording, with the passion and intensity blasting through the speakers. Perfectly exemplified up on the albums most violent track, History’s Stranglers, this is the sound of 4 men pouring their bitter hearts and twisted souls onto record, in the most realistic way possible.
And while each track is a slice of rage from the band, each is also a potent fable, with lyrics far more intelligent than you would expect. Yes, there is gratuitous swearing (Mother ***er I want your blood, You selfish c**t, you got some explaining to do), but it is used in the best possible way and in no way detracts from the rest of the lyrics. Dirty Leaves shows the more ‘sensitive’ side of the band perfectly, with ‘I never wanted to admit to this, but my love wasn’t true, I rescue the lonely, because I’m lonely too,’ ringing a much truer chord than the sugar coated love anthems paraded on the charts. On the slightly more socially orientated side, any one of the tracks could be highlighted for brilliance lyrically, from the potentially crass ***ty Future (‘slit wrists are the latest fashion) to the anthem of disaffected youth Around the Horn.
Perhaps the true indication of each song’s strength though is the fact they could all probably work great as instrumentals. Rape Zombies constantly shifting riffs are more engaging than supposedly simplistic music has any right to be, whilst Three Dead Sisters dissonant chords convey the anger and confusion so eloquently put forward by the vocals on their own. There is no self indulgence on the record, nothing in the songs that even borders on excessive. Even a guest appearance from Gilby Clarke on Dirty Leaves along with the organ sounds on the song retain a minimalist feel which compliments the raw attitude perfectly.
The Bronx aren’t the Mozart of this generation, by a long shot. What they are is the most powerful, genuine and raw act to emerge since Refused, providing the clearest look at the dirt and grime of their LA. This is a connection to something we don’t know, and while it may not exactly inspire hope, it makes for the best punk album in a long time.