December 2008 Archives

Drunk in Public: Tapped Out

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Back in the mid-nineties I hosted a radio show on my college's in-house station and, of all the record labels I contacted, Fearless Records was the most enthusiastic about sending me their releases (I also remember getting some stuff from Fat Wreck Chords and the station manager taking all the NOFX CDs for himself...). While none of the CDs I got from Fearless were mind-blowingly original, I did enjoy adding some Blount, Glue Gun, 30 Foot Fall, Grabbers, and White Caps tunes to the program. At any rate, the one record I recall playing most frequently both on- and off-air was Drunk in Public's Tapped Out! so it is with some pleasure and quite a bit of nostalgia that I return to the disk this early New Year's morning.


One of the legions of similar-sounding pop-punk bands active in the late eighties and early nineties, Drunk in Public contributed some of the catchier tracks to a few of the era's more memorable compilations, toured the States a couple of times, and released Tapped Out! which, it seems, remains the band's most well-known work.

As I've said, though, Tapped Out! does little to distinguish itself from what is, in retrospect, an unbelievably sprawling body of largely-forgotten pre-Green Day boom pop-punk. Still, while the style and sound of the music is essentially interchangeable with those of now-neglected bands, the album's quality production and the band's tight musicianship combine to make one of those disks that I will continue to dig out once in a while to add some variety to my (soon-to-be-resumed) radio show. Furthermore, the bits of funk (especially on the slap-bass happy "Don't Give Up"), hardcore, and pseudo-hair metal (take the Van Halenish opening to "Looking Back," for instance) make the record stand out from the pop-punk pack. But not by much.

Highlights:

Track 1. "The Way He Feels." This was always a popular song when I played it. The first of many songs about relationships on the album.

Track 3. "Enemies." Probably the band's most well-known track, "Enemies" appeared on at least one compilation (one of Fearless's Punk Bites disks) and is yet another breakup song.

Track 4. "Meaningless." A hardcore-tinged song about a dysfunctional relationship. Noticing a pattern yet? The whoah-oh-oooh-oooh-ohs, though, make it a keeper.

Track 5. "Everyday." Take Screeching Weasel and move them to sunny California and you've got another catchy Drunk in Public love song.

Track 14. "Shades of Gray." The best vocal performance on the disk, I reckon, "Shades of Gray" offers a lot for the punker looking for something to sing to while sitting in traffic.

Sobriquet Grade: 81 (B-).

The Flying Crap: Never Mind Your Head

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The Flying Crap

Never Mind Your Head
Sonet Music, 1995

For a nation as sparsely populated and out of the way as Norway, the hackneyed motto "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll" has, in recent years, been taken to extremes from which even Ozzy Osbourne would recoil. Since 1992, when Mayhem's Varg Vikernes set fire to several medieval stave churches and murdered Øystein Aarseth, Norway has hosted some of music's more shocking excesses. Even Sweden's hillbilly house outfit, Rednex (whose dreadfully catchy version of "Cotton-Eye Joe" can still be heard at minor league ballparks across the United States), were arrested in Trondheim for partying too hard on stage. More typical, however, is the sort of Iggy Pop versus Sid Vicious shenanigans exemplified by the Cumshots whose notoriously chaotic and violent performances have resulted in scores of injuries to audience and band. Plus, thanks to the wonders of viral video, one can watch a live performance of "Go Forth and Fuck" in which the band one-ups the Stanglers' infamous strippers-on-stage scandal by allowing a pair of environmental activists to copulate onstage. Not to be outdone, the Flying Crap got themselves banned from Norwegian television and Kristiansand's Quart Festival by incorporating the firing of a shotgun loaded with live ammunition into their live act.

Oh. And they play music, too.

The Flying Crap are a pretty run-of-the-mill hardcore outfit and Never Mind Your Head is a fairly pedestrian hardcore album with bits of sludgy metal (particularly evident on tracks such as the dirge-like "Kill 'Em All") thrown in for good measure. Lyrically, the Flying Crap are reminiscent of the sleazy subject matter of bands like the Dead Boys (even the old school song they choose to cover, Wayne/Jayne County's "Toilet Love," is a suitably disgusting ode to sloppy Larry Craig-style bathroom sex). With sex, hard drugs, disease, and misanthropy as running themes, the Flying Crap are relatively indistinguishable from the mass of mediocre hardcore outfits churning out metal-tinged, gutter-minded punk rock. Still, tracks like the aforementioned "Toilet Love," "Dirty Lause (sic)," and a spirited cover of "Teenage Kicks" stand out as worth the extra listen.

Sobriquet Grade: 77 (C+)

The Abs: Turbosphinct

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The Abs, as I have written elsewhere, are easily one of the most entertaining bands I've got in my collection. With lyrics ranging from astoundingly zany to downright facile to strikingly intelligent and undeniably melodic, hook-heavy guitar work, the Abs rarely miss the mark with their brand of quirky pop-punk. On the band's 1988 EP, TurboSphinct, the Abs pretty much follow their formula to a T. Take "Same Mistake Twice," the disk's opening track, for instance: with Fatty Ashtray's bouncing bassline as the song's groundwork, Baz sings of feeling like he's been "sent here on a mission / to eradicate complacency among the young men in this town" (peculiar word selection for a pop song, no?) in such a way as to make the listener feel like he or she is a bad person for not singing along. The second track, the awkwardly-titled "Hand Me Down (My Silver Boulder Knives)," for better or worse, reminds me of William Carlos Williams's "The Dance," a poem whose rhythm mimetically captures the festive (well, drunken, actually) whirling, twirling, rollicking pirouettes of the dancers in Pieter Brueghel, the Elder's painting, "The Kermess":



I mean, I realize this sounds ridiculous but, in all seriousness, that's the image that comes to mind every time I play the song. Opening with playfully militaristic drumroll and a bassline that could have been lifted out of some sort of folk festival dance number, "Hand Me Down (My Silver Boulder Knives)" is one of the most immediately danceable tracks I've heard in a long time. And, I should note, that by "danceable," I mean wild hopping from foot-to-foot with the punch-counterpunch swing of the song's beat.

The EP's B-side is not quite as strong as the romping A-side. While both "Legal Aid" and "Jackhammer" are consistent with the band's poppier sound, both add subtle elements of mid-eighties hard rock and hair metal to the mix. Though barely noticeable, the shift in sound is perceptible and neither song is especially memorable. Fortunately, the Abs did not fall into the trap as did so many of their contemporaries and, with their next album, took a decidedly non-metallic approach to songsmithing. To delightful effect, I might add.

Sobriquet Grade: 85 (B).

Blitz: All Out Attack

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With 1981's All Out Attack EP, Derbyshire's now-legendary Blitz unapologetically stomped their way into the burgeoning oi! scene, pounding out four unrelenting blasts of pure sonic energy and lit up the creative circuits of countless street punk and oi! bands following in their wake. Although all four tracks on the disk are keepers, the opening "Someone's Gonna Die Tonight" is about as perfect an oi! anthem as humanly possible. A tale of street fighting gone very, very wrong, "Someone's Gonna Die Tonight" features Nidge Miller's sandpapery voice rhetorically querying "Do you feel alright?" giving his bandmates (and, presumably, every audience member ever to attend a Blitz show) the opportunity to chant oi! oi! oi! in response. Add to this buzzing guitars and a pounding drumbeat so loud that the vinyl practically shakes the turntable and you've got one hell of a song. The second track on the disk, "Attack" actually reminds me a bit of Japan's Teengenerate with its lo-fi production and garage-y sound. With the guitars distorted to the point of making one wonder whether his or her stereo isn't blown out and insanely catchy uh-uh-uhhhs weaving in and out of the bombination, "Attack" is a massive announcement of the band's power and energy. The remaining two songs, "Fight to Live" and "45 Revolutions," follow the same buzzing formula as the A-siders and, while not as immediately catchy as the first two tracks, are both solid sing-alongs that will undoubtedly continue to serve as nonpareil blueprints for those seeking the classic oi! sound.


Sobriquet Grade: 90 (A-).

The Gaslight Anthem: Sink or Swim

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While Sink or Swim, the Gaslight Anthem's 2007 debut, is undeniably, one of the better records to emerge out of the punk scene over the past few years, it may be the band's weakest release. Of course, this is saying a whole lot. After all, both their follow-up EP, Señor and the Queen, and their sophomore album, The '59 Sound, are phenomenal (and, especially in the case of the latter, genre-expanding) releases. So, really, listening to Sink or Swim after having heard the band's most recent output may not be the best approach to reviewing the disk. I mean, you can't help but be a bit biased.


At any rate, Sink or Swim is certainly not your run-of-the-mill debut effort. The Gaslight Anthem are one of the tightest outfits on the circuit today, consistently polished and capable of the sort of unified sound most good bands require several albums to achieve. And you can hear it on this first record. There really isn't a lousy track on the disk.

All the hallmarks of the Gaslight Anthem's sound are present on Sink or Swim, though perhaps not in as breathtakingly mature a manner as on The '59 Sound: Brian Fallon's soulful Bruce Springsteen-meets-Tom Waits rasp, punk-infused roots rock riffs, and immensely catchy sing-along choruses. Unlike The '59 Sound, however, Sink or Swim does not offer quite as many stand-out singles, which makes for a strikingly balanced listening experience. The band's performance, with the significant exception of "I'da Called You Woody, Joe," is consistently very good on the record, but most tracks fall just shy of great. In other words, Sink or Swim is an excellent album that really needs to be played start-to-finish in order to be properly appreciated because there's not as many mix tape-ready tracks to pull from the disk.

Highlights:

Track 1. "Boomboxes and Dictionaries." A driving rhythm serves up one of the album's catchier choruses like a Jersey Shore wave breaking just in time to deliver a surfer to his or her perfect crest.

Track 2. " I Coul'da Been A Contender." Despite the dubious placement of the apostrophe in the song's title, this track is close to flawless.

Track 5. "1930." One of the most representative of the album's tracks, "1930" is the perfect introduction to the Gaslight Anthem's nascent soul punk sound.

Track 8. "I'da Called You Woody, Joe." The band's heartfelt dirge for Joe Strummer captures the shock Fallon felt upon learning of of the Clash frontman's untimely heart attack and transforms it into a sublime punk rock threnody.

Track 9. "Angry Johnny and the Radio." Try not to sing along with this one. Seriously. It's like eating one potato chip. You just can't resist.

Track 12. "Red At Night." A clear nod to Billy Bragg's "Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key," "Red At Night" is a beautiful acoustic performance as electrifying as the most intense of plugged-in sets.

Sobriquet Grade: 86 (B).

Incidentally, I caught the Gaslight Anthem's show in Asbury Park last night. The third of three "At Home for the Holidays" shows put on by the Bouncing Souls, the concert featured the legendary pogo punks as headliners and the Gaslight Anthem as one of three opening bands. The show was originally scheduled for the Stone Pony but a last minute venue change resulted in the rather unfortunate decision to hold the concert in the Grand Arcade, a glass-enclosed section of the Asbury Park boardwalk with less than ideal acoustic properties. In addition to the sound-absorbing Christmas tree to the right of the stage, the high, cathedral-esque ceilings and disproportionately wide proportions of the hall swallowed quite a bit of the music and what managed to escape often got trapped in the odd nooks and crannies of the beachside boutiques lining the concourse. With the exception of one Bad Religion concert in Montreal's Jarry Park, I have never attended a punk show held in such an overlarge space and, to be honest, the music suffered.


In addition to the Bouncing Souls and the Gaslight Anthem, with whose music I am rather well acquainted, the bill included two other Jersey bands, Let Me Run and Gimme Drugs, neither of which really struck me as especially good. Let Me Run has a rather melodic brand of hardcore-leaning punk and gave a pretty solid performance, though the lead singer seemed a bit nervous at times. Gimme Drugs, as their rather lame name suggests, are one of those bands that are not particularly inventive. Armed with lyrics occasionally delivered in an obnoxious spoken word style and jokes ("Hello, we're the Gaslight Anthem. Heh, heh, heh.") that fell flat, Gimme Drugs did not engage the audience much.

The Gaslight Anthem were great, though. You can tell the band is about to get huge. I mean, the crowd was swarming with Brian Fallon lookalikes. The original Fallon, of course, is a natural performer, regularly engaging the audience in banter and sing-alongs. Clearly very comfortable on stage, the Gaslight Anthem displayed remarkable chemistry, exchanging playfully knowing glances and orchestrating deceptively casual musical improvisations that really electrified the audience.

Playing an extremely tight set, the Gaslight Anthem leaned heavily on The '59 Sound, though they played a fair amount of songs from both their previous records. Watching the band, I was pretty certain I was watching The Next Big Thing.

The Bouncing Souls, predictably, performed an energetic set of pogo-punk tracks that drove the circle pit into a frenzy. Initially dressed in matching red holiday jumpers, the band came across as extremely fan friendly, often holding the mike to the throbbing mass of kids dying to sing along with this most sing-alongable of bands. With such novelties as a tongue-in-cheek (though quite good) acoustic cover of the Misfits' "Hybrid Moments" thrown in to pace what would otherwise have been a blistering set of pop-punk tunes, the Souls were perfectly tuned to their audience. Mixing newer tracks (including debuting an unreleased song) with selections from the band's first two decades of recording, the Bouncing Souls gave a pleasantly balanced set, being certain to cater to both newer and older fans.

While I did experience a bit of disappointment with the venue and some chagrin at the programmer's strange tendency to play AC/DC CDs during set changes, the show was one of the better ones I've seen lately and, just maybe, I can say I witnessed the Gaslight Anthem as they were getting ready to rocket to the big time. The next time I see the band, I doubt very much the tickets will be so cheap or the venue so small. They're that good.

Boris the Sprinkler: 8 Testicled Pogo Machine

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Boris the Sprinkler were one of the most deliberately zany punk bands of the 1990s and early 2000s. Fronted by the notoriously bizarre Rev. Nørb (who, when I asked him, assured me that his name was pronounced "Norb" but that he had stylized the font, intending the "ø" to be read as as a "null" rather than the Norwegian letter it actually represents), Boris the Sprinkler churned out a series of pop-punk albums that were, by turns, riotously funny, gratingly cacophonous, delightfully melodic, obnoxiously moronic, and thoroughly enjoyable. Hailing from Green Bay, Wisconsin, Boris the Sprinkler proudly flaunted their Cheeseheadedness, often referring to local hangouts in their lyrics and even penning a song about pining for a grilled cheese sandwich on Saucer to Saturn, their 1995 sophomore LP.


Opening with the unmistakeable and inimitable voice of the late Wesley Willis mimicking the famous introductory words to the MC5's Kick Out the Jams, 8 Testicled Pogo Machine immediately aligns itself with the brand of self-consciously absurdist Dickies-style campiness. After introducing each of the band's members in mock-MC fashion, Rev. Nørb, deeming himself "the voice of Geek America" (the man is perhaps best remembered for wearing his antler helmet, a football helmet with the words "PUNK" and "GEEK" plastered to its surface) proceeds to open the album with its geekiest, punkiest track, "Drugs and Masturbation."

Lyrically, "Drugs and Masturbation" sets the tone for much of the disk. Boris the Sprinkler, like many of the pre-emo boom pop punk bands of the nineties, were pretty much obsessed with the sex they could not get, the girls they could not get it from, and the hands they turned to in moments of frustration. The amplified self-depreciation, candid celebration of marginalized status, and the unabashedly onanistic tone of the song informs much of the album's remaining lyrical content. The record's second track, "Get Outta Here" is the tale of a single man living in his mother's house who refuses to succumb to a girl's unwelcome advances because he's "not that desperate yet." Like the Ramones' "I Don't Want To Walk Around With You," "Get Outta Here" is pure punk rock anti-love and a fitting introduction to a theme the band further distills in "(She's So) Disgusting." On "The Way It Is," however, the Reverend croons about a girl he believes is too good for him, wishing that he had actually mailed "a letter [he] never sent" in which he "told her how [he] felt." Furthermore, we eventually learn, the singer has never even spoken to the girl, placing "The Way It Is" alongside such nineties pop-punk versions of this eternal rock 'n' roll theme as Screeching Weasel's "Totally" and "Claire Monet." On the track "1-3," the speaker sings about his unfortunate discovery that a girl for whom he has developed a physical attraction is, in fact, a mere thirteen years old. Though she is half his age, the ephebophilic character struggles with his forbidden attraction to the unwitting Lolita. And, in case you haven't yet realized that a huge chunk of the album deals with the seemingly impossible act of forming a healthy relationship between a male and a female, "Girls Like U" makes the point abundantly clear.

Other than tales of unrequited love, 8 Testicled Pogo Machine makes frequent mention of fast food (Taco Bell, in particular), classic punk bands (the U.K. Subs), and comic book characters (Archie Comics' Professor Flutesnoot and Mr. Weatherbee and the Green Lantern make an appearance).

Musically, the album is quite a bit more diverse than most records classified as pop-punk. While you've got tons of Ramones-y stuff going on, there's a clear roots rock element to the record as well as bits and pieces of what might be considered Doo-Wop, rockabilly, Lemonheads-esque alt-pop, and (deliberately) horrible a cappella. What really unifies the album is the band's aforementioned zaniness. The concentrated weirdness and light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek lyrics about such pedestrian topics as drinking grape juice ties the album together at least as much as the rapidly-played, elementary power chords.

Highlights:

Track 1. "Drugs and Masturbation." Truly the voice of Geek America.

Track 9. "The Way It Is." I remember listening to this song over and over again in my freshman dorm. What I loved then - and what I still love today - is the perfect evocation of a self-critically melancholy mood. It's a frank admission to oneself that "I fucked up," a vain attempt at stoic acceptance of disappointment with some beautiful backing vocals and a guitars that'll hook you instantly.

Track 11. "Gimme Gimme Grape Juice." How punk is this? I mean, you take a Ramones title, replace "Shock Treatment" with a relatively under-appreciated beverage (at least in punk songs, where beer is more often than not the libation of choice), add a jailhouse-issue harmonica performance, and play over standard, chugging pogo punk. Oh, and then add an almost-Elvis "Gimmuh-Gimmuh, uh-huh" for good measure. And then burp to end the song.

Sobriquet Grade: 85 (B).

Chron Gen: Chronic Generation

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Although Chron Gen's debut LP hit #2 on the U.K. Indie Chart in 1982 (and nearly cracked the country's Top 50), neither the band nor the album has received the sort of reverent treatment lavished upon their more famous, "classic" (first- and second-wave) oi! contemporaries. So, while records by bands like the Business, the Cockney Rejects, the 4-Skins, Cock Sparrer, the Exploited, and the Angelic Upstarts were relatively easy to find, Chronic Generation was out of print for the better part of two decades. Thus, with the exception of a few tracks (more often than not "Puppets of War," "Jet Boy Jet Girl," and "Misadventure") found on the occasional oi! or street punk compilation, Chron Gen fans had to make due with whatever used or dubbed copies of the band's music they could locate. Thus, when Razor Records re-issued Chronic Generation with a dozen or so bonus tracks in 2006, punk fans had a reason to be excited.


In addition to the album of the same name, Chronic Generation also includes a smattering of live cuts and the entire Outlaw EP, released several months after the LP.

One of the reasons for the album's long tenure in out-of-print purgatory, I suspect, is fairly evident upon listening through the album. With the exception of a spirited cover of Elton Motello's tale of adolescent bisexual rejection, "Jet Boy Jet Girl," Chronic Generation hasn't really got any truly great songs on it. Although "Reality (#2)," "Puppets of War (#4)," and "Outlaw" each charted, they are, ultimately, merely very good tracks. The entire album, in fact, is very good and thoroughly listenable from start to finish. Still, without the sort of standout tracks (again excepting "Jet Boy Jet Girl") that would make their way onto compilations and mix tapes, interest in the band was simply not strong enough to warrant (read: "justify the cost of") constant in-print status after their break-up in 1984.

This is a shame, of course. If anything, Chron Gen is much more melodic than the many of the aforementioned contemporaries, earning favorable comparisons to the Buzzcocks and other poppier punk bands from the era. For me, though, the one thing that I keep thinking about when listening to Chron Gen is just how wonderful an introduction the band is to early British punk. I mean, you've got the stereotypical bits of picayune misanthropy ("You Make Me Spew"), self-aggrandizing Clash-style sloganeering ("Chronic Generation"), a danceable pogo-punk love song ("Jet Boy Jet Girl"), chugging Cold War nihilism ("Puppets of War"), snotty defiance ("You'll Never Change Me"), and post-punk ("Disco Tech"). And all of it is damn fine.

Highlights:

Track 2. "Jet Boy Jet Girl." One of the most anthologized, most thoroughly sing-alongable Chron Gen songs out there. They do, however, make the song less risque than either the Elton Motello or Damned versions, altering the lyrics so that "He gave me head" becomes "He gave me Hell."

Track 5. "You Make Me Spew." Thoroughly juvenile, "You Make Me Spew" makes Chron Gen seem as stereotypically Britpunk as "I Don't Care About You" made Fear emblematic to Americans of a certain era. And as dumb as the song is, you'll be singing it, trust me.

Tracks 11 & 17. "Reality." Take the Exploited, feed them to Paul McCartney, wait a few days for him to "process" his meal, and put it on your turntable.

Track 12. "Living Next Door to Alice." A punkier version of Smokie's glam-rock version of New World's bit of pop vocal fluff. Given that Glyn Barber now sings for Rebel Rebel, a Bowie-inspired glam rock tribute band, I suppose it's not too surprising that his earlier band covered the song. I just wish they would have had the benefit of having heard Gompie's "Alice! Who the Fuck is Alice?" before recording. As an added bonus, the recording includes the band arguing, Sex Pistols-style, in the studio.

Tracks 13 (studio) & 23 (live). "Puppets of War." The menacing guitars, again, are a poppier version of the sort of thing I'd expect from the Exploited (though I may be the only one) on tracks like "God Save the Queen"

Track 21. "Disco Tech." I should hate this song with its mock dance beat and trite anti-club scene lyrics. But I really like it. Sue me.

Track 22. "Clouded Eyes." Pretty straight-forward pop-punk with wonderfully melodic guitars and one of Barber's best vocal performances.

Sobriquet Grade: 88 (B+).

The Abs: Mental Enema

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Something strange happened to me this evening. You see, I was walking through town when I noticed a peculiar, though hardly unpleasant, thing: people kept smiling at me as I walked by. At first, I thought perhaps the holiday season had suddenly transformed everyone I passed into remarkably cheerful bearers of the Christmas spirit. Then I noticed that, actually, I had only passed women and it was the succession of female grins cast in my direction that had surprised me so. Before I chalked my sudden appeal up to a superhuman level of attractiveness, however, I decided to consider, as rationally as I could, what might be the root of this unprecedented development. Either my fly was unzipped, I reasoned, or something in my diet must have caused my body to produce particularly potent pheromones. Just as I was getting ready to strut up the street pounding my chest and pumping my fist with testosterone-fueled bravado, however, I realized the explanation was far more simple: the people I passed smiled at me because, unbeknownst to me, I'd been grinning like a fool for some time.


So, now that I'd figured out what was going on, I set myself to thinking. I mean, I rarely smile, so something extraordinary must have happened, right? Then I figured it out: I'd been listening to the Abs, and I was smirking and chuckling at the tunes my iPod had been whispering in my ear.

Like many people, my first exposure to the Abs was their (in)famous and frequently anthologized "Grease Your Ralph," the band's infectiously poppy paean to the combover Ralph Coates (pictured with hair to the right) sported towards the conclusion of the midfielder's career with Tottenham Hotspur in the seventies. Although Coates hung up his cleats in 1980 after playing a few years for London's Leyton Orient, the Welsh pop-punkers thought it would be a great idea to pen a song about Mr. Coates and his tendency to "drape those greasy strands" across his "shiny" pate nearly a decade after the fact.

And, you know what? It worked. Unlike Coates's "absurd" combover (seen to the left), which, as Nicky Clark explains in The Observer, could never "stick to the scalp" because "[h]owever much grease or lacquer you put on . . . it'll just matt it all together." The end result, of course, was that "[w]hen Coates tore down Burnley's wing, his hair travelled a second or two behind him."

Indeed, it was this weird tendency of Coates's hair to trail his head as he ran downfield that seems to be at the heart of the Abs's song. "Grease Your Ralph," then, is an order of sorts; it is a plea to those men whose attempts to mask their male pattern baldness with combovers (as futile as that endeavor may be) to use the proper amount of grease to keep their plaits from lifting off and streaming in the wind as the bearer moves about. After all, as the Abs point out in their song, a failure to properly grease one's Ralph may very well result in a Mr. Softee-like appearance.

Anyway, it was the quiet contemplation of of Ralph Coates and his ice cream logo doppelganger, among other things, that got me to smiling this evening.

As far as the actual record goes, Mental Enema is pretty damn good. As profoundly sophomoric as the title may be, the Abs are a remarkably intelligent band. True, they sprinkle the album with a bunch of silly bits of immaturity, but they are such talented musicians that what would pass off as buffoonery when handled by less capable hands comes across as delightfully light-hearted and even a bit witty.

What's perhaps most satisfying about this record, though, is the unceasingly fun feeling it produces. Between Baz and Bryn, the Abs gave us some of the most impressively melodic vocals you'll ever hear on a punk disk, by turns soft and impassioned. I mean, you've a pair of guys capable of singing The Proclaimers' "I'm Gonna be (500 Miles)" as well as some of the grittier, bluesy fifties' style rock 'n' roll vocals the group parodies on "Wreckoning Hour" (on which Little Richard's famous opening to "Tuttu Frutti" is transformed into "a wop bop a loo bop a cough wheeze fart"). Buzz's bass-playing recalls the best of the Rezillos (think "Flying Saucer Attack") and, actually, may be the album's strongest suit after the vocals. Great stuff, through and through.

Highlights:

Track 1. "Popular in Bradford." One of Buzz's jauntier performances, but the lyrics are what really stand out on this number. The rocking subject of the song is "being delivered by caesarian birth" and comes coursing "down your tubes" before "ripping out your pubes." Indeed, the band promises to "rock your tits off/ Blow 'em clean from your chest." And they sing it in such an innocuous-sounding way, too.

Track 2. "Grease Your Ralph." The only way this song could be better is if the Abs took a nod from Gang of Four and started singing about poststructuralist theorists. Seriously, imagine "Grease Your Jurgen [Habermas]." On second thought, forget that. This is perfect as is. Pop-punk genius, a jumping bassline, and Mr. Softee. You really can't go wrong. . .

Track 7. "Wreckoning Hour." Oh, if only the Proclaimers were a punk band!

Sobriquet Grade: 87 (B+).

Impact: Punk Christmas

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Since the last review I did left me with a bad taste in my mouth, I thought I would dig up something fun that I could spend a few minutes writing up before calling it a night. And, really, what could be more appropriate for the week before Christmas than Impact's wonderful bit of holiday-inspired punk rock confectionary?


Although the seven-inch "Punk Christmas" EP can be found with one of two decidedly Yule-themed covers, the eponymous A-side is the only song on the three-track disk to incorporate the festive jingling of sleigh bells into the power chord-heavy brand of Welsh oi! for which Impact is known. The remainder is pretty much what you would expect from an early-eighties street punk band: working class phlegm; heavily-accented vocals; simple, relentless wall-of-sound guitars; pounding drums; and thick-tongued, boozy oh-oh-ohs in the background.

Hailing from Cwmbran, Impact (not to be confused with the Italian hardcore band of the same name) was one of the better street punk outfits playing in South Wales during the early-to-middle 1980s and their lone 7" remains one of the more entertaining releases to emerge out of the pub-centered second-wave U.K. punk scene.

Track Listing:

Track 1. "Punk Christmas." Clocking in at just under two minutes, the EP's title track is a delightful sing-along, urging all the crusty punk kids to "get into the spirit of things." And it works. Oi to the world, indeed.

Track 2. "Law of the Land." Another strong, speedy guitar-driven sing-along. . .if only the vocals were clearer. . .

Track 3. "Your Decisions." See above.

Sobriquet Grade: 81 (B-).

History of Guns: Acedia

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From what I can tell, quite a few people really like History of Guns. They've been getting some pretty favorable reviews for their albums and their infrequent live shows appear to have earned the group an enthusiastic following. But they just don't do it for me.


I suspect a big part of the problem was that I was anticipating Acedia to be a punk rock record. After all, we are expressly a punk rock publication and, since the band's PR people contacted us before sending their clients' CD across the ocean (suggesting at least a cursory familiarity with the scope of Sobriquet Magazine), I assumed, wrongly, that Acedia was going to be something quite different from what it actually is.

Listening to the album a few times, I strained to find what, exactly, made the PR folks think a punk zine would be interested in this album. The best I could come up with is that, once in a while, History of Guns plays fast. Of course, Ministry does that, too. Indeed, fans of industrial bands might very well dig Acedia because, as far as I can tell, there's a heavy industrial flavor to the album. There's also bits of dark electronica (think of the Prodigy's "Breathe") and Tool-style progressive metal. The only thing missing from this sonic gumbo is the punk I was expecting.

So, here's the thing: I'm pretty sure these guys are good musicians. I'm also pretty sure that, had this album been released in the early nineties, the band would have made an appearance on the little cartoon television set at the heart of Beavis and Butt-Head. I'm not sure, though, whether the cretinous duo would have banged their heads reverently or blurted out "uhhhh, that sucked!" in their trademark nasally drawl. Not that one is particularly preferable to the other, of course. As for me, I actually laughed a bit at the band. Which, I don't imagine, is the response they were going for.

I feel kind of bad saying this but, really, I have to. If you took She Wants Revenge, Tool, Ministry, and some generic post-punk goth group, the drums from Public Image, Limited's Flowers of Romance album, and the friable doggerel of a teenage Marilyn Manson fan, put them into a blender, hit "puree," poured the end result through a strainer to remove anything that didn't sound self-important, and handed me the glass, I'd take a sip and say "Eww, this tastes like Acedia!" before politely handing it back.

Sobriquet Grade: I'm going to skip the "it's not punk, so it's an F" reasoning and go with a 63 (D). Here's why:
63-66: D
Lousy. Perhaps listen-able, but not really enjoyable. Have you ever been in the car with someone who has horrible taste in music but insists that something they like is right up your alley? Chances are it's a D record.

Tin Pot Operation: Human Resources

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You know those independent record stores that still have crates and crates of used vinyl for sale? Those poorly-lit, musty repositories of all things that would end up on college radio during the 1980s? Almost every city has at least one such store and practically each one employs at least a pair of astonishingly knowledgeable clerks whose encyclopedic familiarity with under-appreciated music and whose passion for righting the injustices of popular taste result in remarkably cool records spinning on the aging turntables behind the counter. I'm talking about the stores where the clerks play the background music less to sell records than to make a statement of this is what's good, this is the art worth seeking out. From the second I started listening to Human Resources, the Tin Pot Operation's most recent release, I could not help but think that this is precisely the sort of record that should go into heavy rotation in every cool independent record store on the planet.


As far as I can tell, I am hardly the first person to find it difficult to describe the Tin Pot Operation's sound. It seems like other reviewers are especially keen on likening the band to other bands -- Stiff Little Fingers and the Clash, especially -- or, more vaguely, to the Stiff Records catalog (Elvis Costello, Ten Pole Tudor, the Adverts, Motorhead, and Ian Dury, among others, called the legendary label home). I'm tempted to say that, on the Indie-Punk spectrum, Human Resources is probably closer to the "Indie" side of things (whatever that means) than to the "Punk" side of things (whatever that means), but I think I'd be better off saying that the Tin Pot Operation sound like the Tin Pot Operation. In other words, yeah, sure, there's echoes of a few dozen great bands on this disk, but I'm hesitant to pigeonhole a band as interesting as the Tin Pot Operation by saying they sound like this or that group.

If anything, I am partial to the comparisons with the Clash. I say this because, like the Clash, the Tin Pot Operation blend an impossibly diverse assortment of sounds into an impressively uniform, tight end product. And there really aren't a whole lot of bands capable of that feat. While not quite Strummer-Jones, the guitar/vocals tandem of Anto O'Kane and Ray Lawler certainly makes for a much richer, nuanced, and satisfyingly complex brand of melody than what passes for punk rock these days. What I find most impressive, however, is the way that the band manages to fashion sing-alongs out of trenchant political lyrics. That, too, is sorta, kinda like the Clash. . .

Unifying the band's sound, of course, is their unmistakeable passion. You get the impression that there has never been a group of people happier to be angry. But what really matters, I suppose, is the fact that the Tin Pot Operation can take R & B riffs, mellow Radiohead-like melodies, occasional bluesy-folksy rhythms, and bursts of punk speed, shake it all up, and produce a record as thoroughly enjoyable as Human Resources, a disk I have been humming and singing along to all weekend.

Highlights:

Track 1. "Sooner the Better." Shaz Morgan's bass on this track, in my opinion, is among the album's finest performances, but one's not likely to notice it under the slashing guitars and almost a cappella vocal harmonization towards the song's conclusion.

Track 2. "Cold." The whoa-oh-oohs alone make this track a keeper.

Track 3. "Right and Wrong." One of the least "punk" tracks I'll ever mention on this blog, but I'd be a bad reviewer if I didn't highlight the delicate beauty of the strings (all of 'em) on this song.

Track 7. "One Night." A driving beat followed by a mellow bit followed by some of those whoa-oh-ooohs that I love so much.

Track 10. "Tell the Kids." This is one of the best songs I've heard this year. Imagine a house band flipping off the management, ditching the covers they were hired to play, cranking up the volume, upping the tempo, singing the lyrics they really want to sing, and getting the crowd caught up in the sheer joy of it all. That's "Tell the Kids."

Sobriquet Grade: 88 (B+).

The Adicts: Sound of Music

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The Adicts

Sound of Music
Razor Recordings, 1982
Reissue, 2006

The Adicts, for the uninitiated, are, among other things, one of the most chronically under-appreciated bands of the early punk era, the band responsible for incorporating the droog look of Alex DeLarge's gang in Kubrick's stylized vision of Burgess's A Clockwork Orange into punk fashion (see also: "Clockie"), regular guests on British children's programming, and one of the most consistently entertaining live acts in existence.

Unlike Kiss, a band whose theatrics often mask relatively mediocre music, the Adicts' clownish appearance reflects and even enhances the group's lighthearted sound. Rather like the fifties' B-Movie kitsch championed by the Cramps or the pseudo-demonic trappings of the Misfits, the Adicts' look is a perfect fit for the music. Indeed, the confetti-tossing, playing card-flipping, cane-toting, troupe of mime-lookalikes always seem to be having about as much fun playing their songs as fans do when hearing them.

And, really, shouldn't we get to the music already?

Sound of Music, the 1982 follow-up to the previous year's debut, Songs of Praise, contains several of the Adicts' best-known songs. Including "Easy Way Out" (taken from the band's first-ever release, 1979's 7" EP Lunch With the Adicts), the oft-anthologized "Joker in the Pack" and "Chinese Takeaway," as well as the radio-friendly "Jonny Was A Soldier," Sound of Music could almost be repackaged as a greatest hits collection. In fact, no fewer than eight of the sixteen tracks on the reissued disk appear on the band's most recent compilation, 2005's Made in England.

From the Merry-Go-Round music with which the band introduces "How Sad" to the sublimely mellow (if a bit 80s synth rock-sounding) cover of the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" closing the album, Sound of Music is essentially a flawless disk. Backed by Pete Dee Davidson's extremely melodic, hook-laden guitars, Spider's jouncing bass lines, and Kid Davidson's tight skin-pounding, Monkey has little trouble making every song on the record a singalong.

Highlights:

Track 1. "How Sad." An immediately catchy, even danceable gem of 77-style Britpunk.

Track 2. "4-3-2-1." See above.

Track 3. "Chinese Takeaway." A silly (yet somehow endearing) tale of a hungry bloke's long search for "the right shop . . . to stop [his] hunger." You won't stop whistling this for days.

Track 4. "Jonny Was A Soldier." Sirius's Punk channel, may it rest in peace, played this song constantly. And for good reason. It's a damn good representation of the band's sound.

Track 7. "Joker in the Pack." This could very easily be the Adicts' theme song.

Track 8. "Lullaby." My favorite Adicts tune, by far. A bit faster than many of the band's songs, it's got a killer rhythm and as catchy a chorus as the most beer-sloshingly anthemic oi! song.

Track 16. "I Wanna Be Sedated." Covering the Ramones is never a good idea. I mean, we're not talking about shitty Quiet Riot covering shitty Slade's "Cum on Feel the Noize" here. The un-criticizable Ramones already did the best possible version of the song. But, damn, the Adicts did a beautiful job converting the Ramones' pure wall-of-sound pop-punk into something uncannily close to being an original song.

Sobriquet Grade: 93 (A).

No Empathy: Ben Weasel Don't Like It (EP)

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Although Marc Ruvelo and crew abandoned heavy metal by the time they released their second album, Freedom of Flesh, in 1989, No Empathy never really lost the harder edge of their earlier sound. Indeed, while the Ben Weasel Don't Like It EP has all the hallmarks of a good straightforward punk record -- speed, relatively uncomplicated chord progressions, et cetera -- there are more than a handful of metal-tinged moments on the disk. Some of Ruvelo's vocals could easily be transferred to a thrashcore record without much alteration and the guitars on "Another Word for Unhappiness" do occasionally evoke images of feather-haired, spandex-clad cock rockers windmilling their way through some arena ballad, but the metalish aspects of the band are kept in check and never really approach the ostentatious posturing of some (unnamed) bands with similar tendencies.


That said, this is a good punk record. In addition to the title track and the band's cover of Bad Religion's "Chasing the Wild Goose, which appeared, respectively, as the A and B sides of the original 7" release, the Broken Rekids EP adds three solid original songs to the mix.

Track Listing:

Track 1."Ben Weasel Don't Like It." A good-natured poke at Ben Weasel's notoriously opinionated Chicago scene reports and columns for Maximunrocknroll, "Ben Weasel Don't Like It" is framed by a scene in which Marc Ruvelo asks Ben for the punk rock pseudo-curmudgeon's opinion of his band, to which Ben declares "that, uh, pretty much totally sucked." As a gimmick between friends, the voice-over works nicely and ribs both Weasel and his detractors. I mean, in my limited correspondences with Ben, he has struck me as an uncommonly kind and considerate individual, quite unlike the vitriolic nose-wrinkler some people claim his columns present him to be. "Ben Weasel Don't Like It" sets the record straight: Ben is opinionated and he has a sense of humor about it. He's as willing to criticize himself as he is to critique others. Oh, and the song fucking rocks. Easily one of the best No Empathy tracks out there.

Track 2. "Chasing the Wild Goose." The story is fairly well-known in punk circles: After the successes of their self-titled debut EP and first album, How Could Hell Be Any Worse? in 1982, Bad Religion inexplicably began writing keyboard-laden progressive rock when preparing their sophomore effort, Into The Unknown. Although the band has refused to re-release what many consider to be a disastrous punk rock faux pas, the record did make it out of the studio and into the hands of puzzled hardcore fans worldwide. After the head-scratching and eye-blinking subsided, it seems, people noticed that a few of the tracks were, ultimately, not half bad. "Chasing the Wild Goose," a tale of depression and desperation not wholly unlike some of Bad Religion's later work, is one such song and No Empathy's rendition, while slower than the rest of the EP, is a fairly catchy tune, preserving the melancholy of the original while injecting a bit of actual punk energy into the track.

Track 3. "Maps." Straight-forward poppy punk and a suitably mid-tempo bridge between "Wild Goose" and the faster fare comprising the remainder of the EP.

Track 4. "Another Word for Unhappiness." Certainly not a standout track, but replay-worthy nonetheless.

Track 5. "Veteran." Okay, this sounds like the sort of music I remember from the nineties: bouncy bass lines, buzzing guitars, and dueling vocals on the chorus. Perfect for slam dancing.

Sobriquet Grade: 82 (B-).

Flipper: Generic Flipper

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There's that stereotype of parents unable to appreciate the music of their children's generation. It's fairly standard sitcom fare, really. You know, the tendency TV parents have to declare some hip band's music to be "racket" while angrily demanding that the stereo volume be lowered to more reasonable decibel levels. Invariably, the tableau shifts from the thoroughly un-chic parents to the eyerolling teen, grudgingly turning the knob towards low volume while lamenting his or her tragic situation: living under the style-cramping rule of draconian and uncool parents.


Other than having overheard my father describe "today's rock music" as "a bunch of screaming and yelling" at the time Duran Duran and Tears for Fears dominated the airwaves, my parents never really complained about the music I would listen to. I distinctly remember discussing the Dead Kennedys' Frankenchrist with my mother, explaining why I thought it was a good idea for me to listen to it despite the presence of the infamous Parents Music Resource Center sticker warning us that the music had explicit lyrics and hearing my mom respond to my impassioned explanation with "Well, if that's what you get out of it, okay." So, even the PMRC's cautionary branding of explicit records did little to spark teen-parent acrimony in my house. (Of course, "explicit" doesn't actually mean "dirty" or anything . . . just that the words are clearly stated and relatively unambiguous. You know, there aren't any metaphors. The irony, of course, is that "explicit lyrics" is itself coded language, an implicit way of informing people that taboo subjects like penises, suicide, the occult, and such were on an album. Then again, Tipper Gore couldn't even utter the word "masturbation" when talking about Prince's "Darling Nikki," but I digress . . . )

Anyway.

So, back to my childhood. As I was saying, my parents were remarkably accepting of my musical tastes growing up. I mean, they actually liked the Ramones and didn't seem to mind my owning records by bands with names like Dead Kennedys, the Sex Pistols, or the Circle Jerks. So, really, I never had that experience of having to defend my loud, aggressive music from the onslaught of my parents' critiques. Except once.

I remember I was sitting in my bedroom, playing my Generic Flipper cassette when my mother happened to walk past. I went to switch off the tape, anticipating some hallway-to-bedroom banter and, as it happened, cut off during "Sex Bomb" just as the saxophones were hitting their screechy crescendo. For whatever reason, my mother assumed I was trying to hide my music from her and I got -- for the one and only time -- the "if you're going to spend your money on garbage . . . " speech.

So, Flipper got to be the garbage band and Generic Flipper got to be the marker of the generation gap separating my parents from me.

This memory, in part, has earned Flipper a special place in my heart. The other part, of course, is that the album my mother thought was garbage is actually really, really good.

You see, Generic Flipper is one of those wonderful disks that emerged out of the early years of the punk scene, unencumbered by the rather restrictive stylistic conventions that would come to dominate the genre as the 1980s American punk scene coalesced around increasingly fast, gritty-sounding hardcore bands. No, alongside Reagan Youth, Minor Threat, or MDC, Flipper sounds downright weird. Their songs are slow. There's hand-clapping. The sludgy influence of Black Sabbath is more than mere seasoning on the band's sound.

Still, they're undeniably punk. It's not like the Sex Pistols were a speedy band and the X-Ray Spex made the saxophone an acceptable part of a punk band's sonic arsenal. The Minutemen and Black Flag brought jazz experimentation into the scene and . . . well, you get the picture. What I am saying is that Flipper is one of those early bands that don't sound like a punk band is supposed to sound while sounding punker than almost anything passing for punk nowadays.

Although bands like the Melvins often get more credit for setting the groundwork for grunge, Flipper, in many ways, can lay at least as strong a claim to being the first truly proto-grunge outfit. Drawing upon the same brand of frustrated nihilism one associates with such SoCal contemporaries as Fear and the Germs, Flipper broods where their peers seethe, slowing tempos and moaning rather than spitting their despairing lyrics.

Still, despite their slower, heavier (and largely bass-driven) sound, Flipper exudes considerably more hope than do many of their faster, angrier-sounding counterparts. In "(I Saw You) Shine," for instance, Will Shatter sings of a friend encountering the same walls into which Dostoevsky's famed Underground Man claims man keeps crashing in his self-destructive confrontation with the absurd. Like Melville's Ahab, however, the speaker refuses to relinquish the hope of bursting through the existential malaise his friend seems unable to penetrate. In the end, while no light creeps through the chinks in the wall, the fact his friend managed to "shine" in his futile attempts at escape inspires the speaker to claw his way through the melancholy and confusion rather than wallow in self-pity. "The wounded deer," as Emily Dickinson tells us, does indeed "leap highest," it would seem.

Of course, elsewhere on the album, the lyrics espouse a rather stoic approach to existence. For example, in "Shed No Tears," one of the record's most immediately catchy tracks, the chorus instructs us to "shed no tears" for the violence in the world, insisting that "No tears [be] wasted / No sorrow, no pity" be bestowed upon that which is natural, that which is, ultimately, "No pity, no loss." With Schopenhauerean flair, Will (ha., no pun intended) maintains that we mustn't grieve for the suicide for "He has made his choice, the pain of life is great."

On "Life," however, Will admits that though he "too [has] sung death's praise," he's "not going to sing that song anymore," opting instead for a Nietzschean Yes:
Yes, I've figured out what
Living is all about
It's life! Life!
Life is the only thing worth living for.
Yes, life! Life!
Not to be left out, Bruce Loose adds his own brand of nihilistic songsmithing to the mix, as well. On the album's stellar opening track, we hear him ask a series of rhetorical questions ranging from "Ever want to cry so much / You want to die?" and "Ever think you're smart and then find out you aren't?" to "Ever see a couple kissing and get sickened by it?" and "Ever wish the human race didn't exist / And then realize that you're one, too?" before admitting "I have" and concluding, somewhat stoically, "So what?"

The stoicism continues on "Way of the World," a song Epictetus might well have sung had the Phrygian lived in the suburbs of Los Angeles. "The way of the world," Bruce sings, is that there will always be "hearts no longer beating," "eyes that cannot see," "fingers that cannot touch," and "legs that have ceased to walk." We simply have to accept that many of our "dreams [will be] left empty and blank," and our "kisses undelivered."

So, yeah, the nihilism is pretty thick on Generic Flipper, but unlike many of their their opiate-drenched descendants, Flipper does not wallow in their despair. Recalling Samuel Beckett's famous quip "[w]hen you're up to your neck in shit, the only thing to do is sing," Flipper chooses life, even if it stinks.

Highlights:

Track 1. "Ever." Ever try to clap your way into a better mood? Flipper has . . .

Track 3. "Shed No Tears." This is as close to a sludge-punk sing-along as you will ever hear. Though the melody is a tough one -- think of a roller coaster taking a particularly heavy turn -- you cannot help but to feel a bit like toe-tapping when "Shed No Tears" comes on the stereo.

Track 8. "Living for the Depression." A pretty straight-up punk song with all of Flipper's trademark SoCal disaffection.

Sobriquet Grade: 91 (A-).

My Foolish Halo: Piaphabakrist

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Piaphabakrist is another one of those decent mid-nineties Harmless Records releases that add a sense of depth to one's record collection. For some punks, of course, the more obscure a record the greater the amount of credibility he or she could boast in the scene and owning a copy of My Foolish Halo's lone release, I suspect, could help someone hoping to achieve Punker-Than-Thou status impress a friend or two.


This is not, of course, to say that Piaphabakrist is an especially bad record. If anything, I'd say it's pretty agreeable to the ears. It just lacks the sort of standout tracks one would expect from a distortion-heavy outfit such as, say, Teengenerate or Scared of Chaka. In the end, the disk is merely good but not memorable.

The first track, "Coming Down," in my opinion is really the strongest song on the record. With uncommonly soulful vocals, "Coming Down" balances just the right amount of melody and fuzz to fashion a song I wouldn't mind hearing featured as a "deep cut" on some pre-satellite radio punk show. . .

The remainder of the disk, however, doesn't quite distinguish itself as particularly original in any way and, while each of the tracks are solid enough, the end result is barely more than a collection of halfway decent punk songs. There is a sense of barely restrained frenzy that occasionally punctuates the songs, lending the record an admirably energetic sound but, unfortunately, the listener is left with the distinct impression that My Foolish Halo could have been a really good band had they only had the chance to develop. As it stands, however, Piaphakrist is a good illustration of the distorted garage punk sound so prevalent some ten to fifteen years ago but, then again, so are dozens of other disks from the era. Still, this is a listenable disk, if not one one would put on repeat (forgetting for the moment that it is a 7" vinyl record and not a CD).

Sobriquet Grade: 75 (C).

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