Pennywise - Pennywise (1991)
After having some success in the LA Punk scene during 1989 and 1990, the California "surf Punk" band Pennywise recorded their first full-length LP during 1991, appropriately self-titled. The expected raw and unrefined sound of Wildcard/Word From The 'Wise
is somewhat carried over to Pennywise
but the development of the sound is unmistakable. This album was the first of perhaps two or three significant steps up for Pennywise over their career, and the maturity of the cohesive nature of the album - and most individual songs - is the most prominent example of this. The album is, however, just over 30 minutes of enthusiastic and boisterous Punk Rock from the four Hermosa Beach lads, at the time in their early 20s.
The limited experimentation from Wildcard…
was left in the '80s as the band settled in to the formula which would provide the basis for their success throughout the '90s and early 2000s. Ironically it is the exploitation of this formula that would provide both the band's greatest weakness and principal source of criticism. Pennywise fans - whether they will like to admit it or not - will know exactly what I am talking about
: The unquestionable lack of variety in the Pennywise sound. However, being only the band's second release and first full-length record, monotony doesn't figure so prominently on Pennywise
. Within the confines of assertive, fast Punk Rock, the band have taken their influences from a range of bands of the time, the most flagrant being Minor Threat
, while future contemporaries Bad Religion
and even Descendents
have influenced the '91 Pennywise sound.
Byron McMackin's talent on the tubs is apparent from start to finish as his driving beats and rapid-fire fills create both the enduring foundation for the guitars and a significant share of the album's unshakable energy. While Jason Thirsk is unremarkable on bass, he adequately provides the fundamental link between Byron's drumming and Fletcher Dragge's blazing lead-guitar riffs. Alternatively, Fletcher provides the principal link between Jim Lindberg (vocals) and the band, the pair standing unambiguously in the spotlight for much of the album. Fletcher's riffs largely command the direction while Jim's distinctive vocals and outlook give the band the finesse lacking on many début Punk albums.
The album opens with the brazen Wouldn't It Be Nice
, full of power, pace and aggression. The outlook that would go on to serve Jim's lyrical designs well for the next 15 years - that of challenging conceptions and authority with underlying optimism and hope - is clear from the outset. Although not masterfully crafted prose, the optimism is tangible: "How will we know until we try", So let's say we give it a go, To find the world we are looking for
." Along with Fletcher's lashing lead riffs, the bridge is the musical highlight, building to the last verse and closing chorus. The youthful rebellion continues throughout the opening tracks, with Rules
being essentially indistinguishable from the opener. However, tracks two and three bring to the fore Jim's ability to pen an undeniably catchy hook, with the lead lines of each almost forcing the listener to sing along, which is not helped by the traditional So-Cal Punk backing-vocals, providing some surprisingly melodious harmonies. Going in to greater depth than either of the first two tracks - which combine at just over three and a half minutes - The Secret
slows the pace mildly, allowing time for a solo and a break-down, with the unity of the band apparent throughout. Serving as somewhat of a precursor to 1993's Unknown Road
and 1995's About Time
this track is certainly a highlight of the album.
Showcasing a vocal style rather mimicked 15 years later (Fall Out Boy
I am looking at you), Jim's express spiel in the pre-verses of Living For Today
is essentially incomprehensible (at the first listen at least) and is a vocal highlight of the album. Establishing a tradition that would be followed on many a Pennywise album to come, at track #4 this is arguably the stand-out. The inconspicuous opening is quickly abandoned and the flowing vocal and guitar lines establish a clear mosh-pit favourite. The promise of the band is manifest in Come Out Fighting
, which both manage to maintain the raw energy and attack while expanding on the basic sound with some sharp lead-vocal lines and auspicious harmonies.
Many of the songs on this album clock-in at well under two minutes, and while this is conducive to aggressive, commanding Punk Rock, it denies the songs the chance to develop and make a lasting impression on the listener. Overwhelmingly, the strongest tracks from the album are those which go beyond the restrictions of the 90-second offensive so prevalent on this record. Fun And Games
is a rarity in the Pennywise catalogue: a song about a girl. Despite the fact that the lyrics are overtly simple, they are definitely effective. Lines such as "There may come a time when you just might not think it's worth it, Try to think 12 hours ahead. When the only thing in mind is the girl in your head, well, A girl like that is hard to find
" speak to many a Pennywise fan. Fletcher's simple yet alluring guitar work is a feature of this, one of the more "poppy" tracks on the album, with the "woo-oohs" again prominent.
One of the weaker tracks on the album, Kodiak
is notable for the Black Flag
influence with the album distinctly at its roughest. The group vocals are the feature of Side One
, a 'brotherhood' song about unity - a concept further developed in the album ending. However, before the much-celebrated Bro Hymn
, the penultimate track - No Reason Why
- builds impressively from the restrained introduction into a forceful and uncompromising track, and into one of the album highlights. This, of course, leads into the enigmatic Bro Hymn
which has perhaps become the
song synonymous with Pennywise. One of the most straightforward and uncomplicated Punk songs ever written, Bro Hymn
is arguably the
sing-along song of '90s Punk Rock. A chorus consisting of "woo, woo-oh-oh, woo, oh, oh-oh-oh" and only one riff on guitar and bass for the entire song, it is the first song many Pennywise fans learn on their respective instruments - and the one almost everybody
has sung along to if they've heard it. Outside of Pennywise fans the song has attracted a lot of criticism for its shameless simplicity and repetitiveness, yet the majority of Bro Hymn
fans cite this as its greatest strength. Whatever the consensus on its creative merit, it is undeniably a mosh-pit favourite and Punk Rock classic. The song essentially took on a life of its own after the death of Jason Matthew Thirsk (founding member and bassist from '89 to '96), who penned the track. Bro Hymn
is played at every
Pennywise show as a tribute to Jason, featuring on the 1997 album Full Circle
, slightly modified under the title of "Bro Hymn Tribute
". The song also closed 2001's Live @ The Key Club
. If you have heard a song from this album, it's probably this one. In fact, if you've heard any Pennywise song, it's probably this one.
As far as entrances into the Punk Rock arena go, this is an admirable effort. There are some true highlights and songs that have lasted the test of time and still appear at Pennywise live shows. The lack of diversity doesn't - for me at least - pose a problem for the album as the band was still finding its feet and producing a solid LP such as this did exactly that. Experimenting heavily on this record could well have been disastrous for Pennywise. (Perhaps a concept they took a little too literally for the following seven albums, but anyway.) As it stands this album went a long way to establishing Pennywise's considerable and devoted fan-base, most significantly in California. In the broader scheme of things and looking at the album objectively and independently it is - to a large extent - unrefined, harsh and at times disjointed. Furthermore, in comparison with Pennywise's most well-received work, released later in the '90s, it is lacking in continuity and musical ability. While a solid effort, standing alone it is not a classic album and I have to give it 3.5.
Listen to The Secret
, Living For Today
, Fun And Games
, No Reason Why
and Bro Hymn
(the live version is better though). If you have more time on your hands, Wouldn't It Be Nice
and Side One