Just as the social unrest of Thatcherite London in the late 1970s invigorated a revolutionary punk movement courtesy of unruly outfits like the Sex Pistols, the Damned, the Buzzcocks, and the kings of political punk, the Clash, so the turmoil of the Bush era has spawned a newfound appreciation for resistance rock. Seattle-based foursome the Briefs have always done their spiky-haired best to channel the aesthetic and the ethos of ‘70s-era punk with their oi-style short and sweet numbers. Yet they have never hit so close to the source as they have with their newest release, Sex Objects, out on BYO Records. This is because the band’s power-punk simplicity is inflamed with a new spirit of righteousness that makes an unabashed parallel between protest cries of early British punk and today’s close-to-boiling political climate. While it is unlikely that one can legitimately argue that the Briefs add anything essential to the tried and true formula of the three chord, verse-chorus-verse protest song they certainly do a nice job of carrying the torch. Sex Objects is a tidy little punk-pop package. Fourteen tracks, not one of them longer than two and a half minutes, all fueled by youthful anger at our country’s corrupt leadership. But unlike the red-faced tirades that have become more and more commonplace as November’s presidential election looms and debates about war, homeland security, and gay marriage polarize the country, the Briefs put a mighty effort into to trying to make social consciousness as fun and lighthearted as it is crucial.
In 2002, the Briefs—made up of Daniel Traventi, Lance Romance, Steve E. Nix, and Chris Brief—seemed poised to catapult out of their cozy Pacific Northwest scene into the unknown territory of potential fame, as they left the tiny punk label Dirtnap to sign with Interscope Records. As can frequently happen when mammoth record companies try to pick up little bands, the deal fell through before the band could release anything more than a promo. Though the band may have liked to pocket some extra cash and tour support, the roller coaster of love and then rejection that comes from being courted and then jilted by industry bigwigs seems to have worked out well for the band. The teaming with BYO, who also puts out records by fellow punk acts Leatherface and Youth Brigade, seems good for a band that, even without major label backing, seems only to be growing in popularity. With Sex Objects , their third full-length record, the Briefs seem to have finally captured the manic energy of the live shows that have been satisfying their northwest fan base since their inception in 1999.
The album opens up with a satirical rant on homeland security chief Tom Ridge’s color-coded terror gauge system entitled “Orange Alert”. Featuring a hyperactive three-chord riff, layered call and response vocals, and ubiquitous oi-oi-oi fills, the song doesn’t pretend to tread any new territory. Still, I dare anyone who has a record collection full of ‘70s era-punk to listen to the song more than once without raising a fist in the air and singing along. The song’s high-polished energy is enough to keep its sarcasm and silliness afloat, featuring cheeky the lyrics: “Its an Orange Alert / Telling us we have to prep the nation / Its an Orange Alert / Don’t you know its gonna ruin your vacation”.
The second track, “Halfsize Girl”, is similarly energetic, borrowing freely from punk rock royalty the Buzzcocks. Lighthearted lyrics about a “halfsize girl” living in a “fullsize world” are spat out with expert snottiness as a frenetic cymbal clang holds down the past-paced beat. The Briefs return to the political with “Destroy the USA”, a song whose sentiment needs no additional explanation to portray the vitriolic message it expounds over screeching guitars and thundering toms. The tempo slows down a bit, but the guitars stay loud on “Ephedrine Blue”, an anthem that mockingly extols the vices and the virtues of the since-recalled weight loss drug.
The album’s title track, “Sex Objects”, (about an obsession with a blow-up doll) is a spirited song that features some clever harmonies on the chorus, but it doesn’t seem to match the fury and wit of some of the previous songs. The sneering anger returns on “No More Presidents”, a song where the lyrics are screamed with such speed and venom that they can barely be comprehended until the rest of the group joins to shout the chorus. The momentum continues with “Shoplifting at Macy’s”, a playful jab at a sticky-fingered Winona Ryder. The chugga-chugga riffs on “Mystery Pill” provide a spirited intro, and the Car’s-style guitar solo more than makes up for the leaden and growly vocals.
Overall, what the Briefs have done with Sex Objects is create a record that has carried their earlier 1977 punk devotions to the next logical level. For many bands, this might mean breaking out of a well-worn archetype. But for the Briefs, this simply means adding a measure of intensity to a formula that has worked well in the past, and will continue to work well for those musicians and fans out there who believe that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.