Seething, agitated, and anarchistic, the infamous north-of-the-American-border punks in D.O.A. continue to unleash tuneful and frenzied songs, proving they are far from retired. Like their last outing, Northern Avenger (2008), the newly unveiled Talk–Action=0 is an opus of soaring sing-alongs, tough nerves confronting the new world order, and anger layered with poignant meaning.
Also serving as a companion record to singer Joey Shithead’s just-released illustrated history of the band, the effort is partly bolted to the band’s past. D.O.A. revisits its 1978 tune “R.C.M.P.” (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and re-invent the riffage of others, like 1982’s “Fucked Up Ronnie” (itself a mutation of “Fucked Up Baby”), which they mutate into the seething “That’s Why I Am an Atheist”, retaining all the blitzkrieg speed and bile of the original.
For over 30 years, the band has hammered home rock ’n’ roll tethered to both lumberjack toughness and inscrutable “green” environmental issues at the same time. It balances flannel shirt, beer-smeared, hockey-drenched jukebox drunkenness with punk savagery, aggressive politics, and worldly wisdom that feels like Midnight Oil unleashed with teeth-bared vengeance. Despite getting gray, the band members still froth with fury, brandish blows against corporate wrongdoing, and deplore both Machiavellian madness and public lassitude.
Shithead has always stared down power and culled through the hefty history of leftism, yanking at fiery and polemical issues. Yet, he gives them a kind of flair and foment that makes working class folks feel empowered. He’s not Bruce Springsteen waxing sentimental about rivers and steel towns; instead, he exposes fault lines of religion, police brutality, and economic woes.
At Shithead’s best, he invokes a journalistic scope, a never-tired Sex Pistols snarl, and pure adrenaline ruckus. As such, he continues to unfurl the flag of “Rebel Kind” with sincerity, bemoaning the rules, phony morality, and traps of hegemony that keep people quiet. If being anti-authority is a contagion, he’s never going to recover.
With Bachman Turner Overdrive traditional rock forms in tow, D.O.A. also attacks rampant spending habits on “Consume! Consume!”, a song that eyes the pandemic of super-sized lifestyles leading to excess, from cigarettes and crystal meth to credit cards and junk food. The song doesn’t simply eviscerate corporate greed and exploitation but the very fabric of spending, in which people attempt to fill their hollow lives with cheap goods.
Just as the band has previously dipped into crooner classics from the likes of Gene Kelly and Tom Jones, this time they slip ’n slide through “That’s Amore” in gurgling pantomime, like a punk band woozy at a local Italian dive, hovering over watery pasta. I prefer tunes like “Don’t Bank on a Bank” with its not-so-subtle wordplay (bank, shank, and sacrosanct) that invokes the banking crises with venality. With damning irony, it suggest the only banks supporting people now are the ones piled with donated food, not Chase and Wells Fargo.
“I Live in the Car” (not be confused with the UK Subs song with the same title) does not slow down the social realism for one second. It spills right into another expose of foreclosures. Dads brimming with promises of suburban dreams go empty-handed, losing families, jobs, and identities along the way. From home mortgages to homelessness, the main character ends up sleeping in Walmart parking lots, avoiding tweakers as the neon lights blot out the stars. Personal and destructive, it represents a different kind of politics than “Tyrants in Hell”, which feels like a series of placards attacking the forces of repression: police that trample protestors and stamp out freedom.
Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” is given a Stiff Little Fingers style facelift and throbs akin to Shitheads’ previous stabs at 1960s classics like “Eve of Destruction”. Surging and melodic, it updates the sentiments through a punk-goes-pop barrage that likely would not alienate hippies or mohicans.
“We Won’t Give In” has some scattered ska-inflected portions, and Shithead’s scrappy voice sounds like a union organizer pumping people up to fight power from the factory floor to the halls of banks. Not content to amass people through sit-ins and songs, Shithead harnesses the digital age: the web now funnels the will of the people, and text messages can crush the fists of fascists just as well as the guitar of Woody Guthrie. Anthemic and angsty, it serves as an antidote to cynicism and despair in the wake of fresh labor fights.
Those jolts of hopes, which seem to replenish the fight, also soak the lines of “Captain Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and Bones”. Such Hollywood figures serve as analogies. If they could save planets in hostile and dire circumstances, than very real everyday people should pay heed, honor their own inner strengths, overthrow doubts, and defeat the forces of evil, large and small, in their own lives, just as Star Trek characters entered danger zones with aplomb and spirited action. The sentiment is a bit cheesy underneath, sure, but even folk-hero and agitator Phil Ochs loved Hollywood and imagined John Wayne as a symbol of fortitude.
D.O.A. will always be old school, evoking truth-to-power, which it has spouted in songs since the late 1970s, when it mounted flat bed trucks and pissed off Canadian mounties. The group mocks dimwits, buzzsaws through the rhetoric of corporate hacks and politicians, and illustrates human sorrows that continue to plague society. With muscle and grit behind its stomp, its lyrics give voice to belittled people, from villagers enduring AK-47s and landmines to suburban families in decline. With the same template of the Ramones (keep it simple, not stupid), the conscience of the Minutemen, and the rootsy ruckus of Creedence Clearwater Revival, D.O.A. is fine-honed and forceful at the same time here.
Some punks have fled, others grown quiet, but some like D.O.A. still burn bright, retaining vision while surviving twilight’s last gleam. Harmony-laced and clever, and rigged with denunciations of the war machine, the drug war, and the war on the working class, Shithead and company inspire. When most bands have limped on, shredding integrity as they go, D.O.A. has remained in the trenches, furious and spurious, dodging doldrums and chasing the dream of a better future.