There’s plenty of well-placed blame to be thrown around for the perpetual cheapening of punk rock, with the most egregious commercialization and bastardization happening mostly from within, not without. And really, so what? Punk rock problems, after all, are tedious, with ideals, dogmas and idioms clogging up the works over the decades like so much impacted waste.
Once earnest sloganeering like “Punk Is Dead” became the stuff of monetized Buzzfeed lists, spinal-tapping a subculture too bored to notice how much it already gave up. The whole of punk long succumbed to mining an idea to the point of fracking, the dredging of hardcore tar sands for deeply diminished kicks. If your city or the closest one to you still has an identifiable “scene” it is probably full of some of the most genuinely uninteresting people alive in the world today. If it has an annual hardcore festival, God help you.
Still, futility has never stood much of a chance against irrational romance before. Keith Morris clearly counts himself among the lovers left alive. His generation—that of black flags and circle jerks—did the best it could and still inevitably let us down. Greg Ginn engages in pissing contests with imagined and even imaginary enemies. The Dead Kennedys, minus mouthpiece Jello Biafra, gleefully sell their caustic, confrontational aesthetic to overpriced skate brand Supreme so European tourists flush with currency can stuff their suitcase with symbols they barely understand. Heroes like D.O.A. bassist Dave Gregg die before their time. Not all of this is their fault, but we have a tendency to blame our fathers for sins we’re inevitably destined to make ourselves.
When OFF! first hit a few years back with an energizing series of 7” shockers, tattooed fogies rose from their creaking futons in celebration. Tracks like “Darkness” and “I Don’t Belong” connected like a fist in the pit, bridging the youthful tenets of punk with an audience that had reluctantly outgrown it. Morris’ words were ageless, raised in a sneer many had come to memorize from recordings made many years prior. Emboldened by a righteous calling and a overwhelmingly favorable response, the quartet, which also features members of Redd Kross and Rocket from the Crypt, kept on keeping on with a proper album length debut in 2012. The sonic differences between that and the material that came before were more or less indiscernible. OFF! had an addictive sound and little incentive to deviate from it.
Two years later, that familiar fast-paced grind returns less like the rush of a good drug than the comfort of another gratifying 16-piece bucket of fried chicken, a streamlined favorable solution to a constant question. Our collective tolerance for what we invite into our homes is ludicrously low, and though Wasted Years feels less like an event than an album it still discernibly trumps the alternatives. (Black Flag’s boorish “reunion” LP from 2013 immediately comes to mind like bile to the throat.) The tunes rarely reach a minute-and-a-half apiece, mostly speeding through riff after slashed riff, breathing only for anticipatory feedback or a welcome breakdown (“Legion Of Evil”). Again, anti-normative artist Raymond Pettibon provides the cover piece, another symbolic thumbing of the nose to his own past in the SST coal mines, albeit if the thumb were instead a middle finger.
While the rest of the band bashes away, Morris prattles on about what we already know: we’re hypnotized, mindless in our disposable consumerism. His messages aside, he can still deliver a good left hook. “I Won’t Be a Casualty” has anthem smeared all over it, as does the dirty distorted groover “It Didn’t Matter to Me”. Closing out the record is its title track, an embittered, defensive minute shouting down those who were never on Morris’ side in the first place. Yet even amid the vitriol there’s vision, and an almost cloying affection for the moribund punk rock form. The monologue ends, halitosis still wafting in the mausoleum air, and strangely, you want to poke the body again. Do it.