Punk, as a genre, is often criticized by “true” music fans, and with good reason. The purpose of punk is not to innovate, enlighten, or stretch creative boundaries. Generally, punk aims to spark action and promote unity through aggressive lyrics and a powerful—but usually not very unique—sound. Punk is criticized because many bands of the current generation are horribly predictable: four or five young tattooed guys, Bush-bashing lyrics, heavy drumming, and some power chords. But a band like Street Dogs arrives with great spirit and vigor, and with their third album, Fading American Dream, establishes themselves as a group avoiding niches and denying stereotypes.
Fading American Dream clearly addresses current social issues, including the struggle of the common man, the strength of unions and workers, and the corruption of government—nothing new to alternative rock. But vocalist Mike McColgan writes from real personal experience. He is a Gulf War veteran who served on an artillery crew in Iraq during Desert Storm, and the messages in Street Dogs’ lyrics reflect the goals of the group to incite thought and interest in current events, rather than ignorantly bash the government. The anthematic “Common People” opens the album with great strength, featuring a particularly rousing chorus of “This is a battle cry for the common people / The forgotten nowhere kids stuck / We’re singing this song for all of the common people / Who’ve given up so much and got back so little”. The second half of the song builds and ultimately serves its purpose to introduce Street Dogs as a group of guys that has a message they intend wholeheartedly on communicating. The next two songs, “Not Without a Purpose” and “Fatty”, carry on the themes of rooting for the underdog and standing up for what’s right, all over traditional punk form.
With the repeated line “First amendment, she’s coming down”, Street Dogs trick the listener into thinking they are just another punk band: afterall, every good punk album needs an aggressive fuck-the-police track, and “Decency Police” fulfills this requirement. But the end, highlighted by spirited woah’s and heavy bass drum, is full of energy and packs a surprisingly effective punch. Street Dogs credit cultural heroes Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Bob Marley as influences. This political (but not necessarily punk) influence is displayed in the group’s decision to cover Billy Bragg’s “There Is Power in a Union”. However, the cover reflects Bragg’s vision, but offers up nothing new.
The obvious standout track is the lovely “Final Transmission”. Amid a set of songs all of a similar quick tempo and heavy feel, this track sits as a sparse, gentle reminder of the human qualities the group strives to emphasize in their music. McColgan sings of a soldier—“He’s never gonna get a chance to chase all those hopes / Lost them all amidst the war and smoke / Can you hear the sound of youth negated? / Why are all those young lives taken?”—not in a bitter or hateful tone, but instead in an earnest, honest plea for reform and change. Street Dogs bring nothing new to the table; there is nothing particularly fresh or creative about the construction of the songs, nor anything exceptionally captivating about the technique of the musicians. That said: however predictable the form or lyrics may be, the album is a solid set of rock that aims above mere punk shock value and canned negativity towards the government. The feelings here are real and the music is genuine, and the album proves, despite its seemingly despairing title, to be a message of hope; it is a reminder that we can make a difference.