[13 October 2006]
On the back of Nomeansno’s latest, All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt, the band includes a mocking motto: “From obscurity to oblivion.” I always have admiration for bands like Nomeansno. It’s one thing to have to “struggle” with the success: the epic fame, the great wads of cash, the men and women throwing themselves at your feet. It’s another to soldier on, year after year, knowing that your music will never be a hit; your fans will never grow beyond a small cult; and your income will probably just keep you in poverty, regardless of how many Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll profiles are written about your group.
Nomeansno have been at the music game for a very long time. After all, they were inspired by a performance by D.O.A. back in the ‘70s and issued their first single around the time Ronald Reagan was elected president. Over the past quarter century, the group—centered on the Wright brothers, Rob and John, along with other guitar players and sidemen—has crafted its own unique brand of hardcore punk, always fueled by the propulsive Wright rhythm section (the group’s earliest work featured just bass and drums, but featured a sound more full than a lot of metal acts with triple-threat guitar attacks), with lyrics that delved much deeper than your typical “everything sucks” hardcore attack. At their best, Nomeansno is epically inventive, adhering to no genre or scene rules except the ones they set. (Their latest album, for example, is tagged “gospel and religious” in iTunes for its genre.)
All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt isn’t one of those releases. Instead, it fits firmly into Nomeansno’s middle ground. Still inventive and listenable, the album just doesn’t have the spark that fuels the band’s best albums, be it their own brand of furious hardcore (Sex Mad), inventive music play (Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed), or a glorious amalgamation of the two (Wrong).
For the mostpart, All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt features 14 tracks of extremely competent and sometimes compelling punk rock. There are some great high points, though, including (ironically enough) “So Low”, which features the kind of bouncy bass and pounding drums the band is famous for, along with a tale of a scorned lover, hurting after “My baby took the Lexus”. And guest vocalist Robyn Carrigan opens up “Mondo Nihilissmo 2000” with the mantra-like “Nothing means anything, everything’s permitted / Nothing is forbidden, so anything goes”, followed by a sarcastic look at society: “I was born to be an attorney / I was born to pedal cars / I’ll make hay while the sun shines / Then I’ll end up behind bars”. Great stuff—funny, incisive and catchy as hell.
This time around, the band’s longer, more complex and experimental pieces are where they fall short. “Heaven is the Dust Beneath My Shoes” is as close to a generic Nomeansno song as you will ever hear, while “I See a Mansion in the Sky” doesn’t really go anywhere for the duration of its six minutes. Some of the other shorter songs come off as Nomeansno-by-the-numbers. Now, that’s a lot better than generic-hardcore-by-the-numbers, but a band with such a history of innovation shouldn’t rest on its underground laurels, not matter if they’ve reached an age where they might want to think about settling down. Nomeansno has taken their own highway for a long time, but evidentially even that becomes middle of the road.