Old punk musicians playing new punk songs. Ah, the circle of life.
Good For You are a hard-charging, gravel-voiced band of punks led by former Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn, and the band's debut album Life's Too Short to Not Hold a Grudge contains eleven hammer-fisted anthems of disenfranchisement and bitterness. There aren't a lot of guitar solos or harmony vocals here -- there usually aren't with punk -- but there is a range of tempo and surprising melodiousness that makes listening to this record rewarding, and much less of a simple endurance test than is so often the case with bands utilizing such a relatively narrow range of musical tricks. Even better, Good For You eschews pop-punk's lightweight chord structures and lyrical concerns. This is angry, pissed-off, juvenile, adolescent music, yes, but it's angry pissed-off juvenile adolescent music for adults.
Album opener "I’d Rather Die" sets the tone both lyrically and musically. "I won't forgive, there'll be no compromise / Meet you halfway? I'd rather die," snarls vocalist Mike Vallely over a bed of churning guitars and midtempo drum-bashing. However, there is enough texture to the guitar -- in the form of stuttering rhythms, whining lead lines and bounding bass -- that the song avoids monotone dullness.
Happily, this holds true for most of the album. "Free" and "Hanging Around" are both great tunes sporting chug-a-lug tempos and satisfying chord progressions that manage to transcend the bitterness and gloom encapsulated in the uncompromising lyrics. "Knife in the Face" is far less successful at establishing this transcendent quality, but that may be a function of its nearly seven-minute length. Easily the set's longest song -- though not its most inventive or sonically interesting -- "Knife in the Face"'s repeated chorus wears down the listener in a way that most of the other tunes avoid, and is pretty much a downer as a result.
The back half of the album takes a bit of time to recover. Not exactly a good-time record, Life's Too Short to Not Hold a Grudge ups the tempo, and energy, on "Stupid Me" and "Good Sport", a pair of tunes that adhere more closely to what casual listeners probably think of as hardcore or punk -- pummeling rhythms, frantic guitar hammering, and an absence of subtlety. Considering that the band had avoided these cliches early on, it's too bad that they crop up here.
Things get back on track with "It's Just Business", which brings back the middling tempos and layered musical stew of some of the early tracks, while never forgetting the power of a chanted vocal line ("Isn't it wroooong?") tailor-made for a fist-pumping mosh pit. "Blaze of Glory" even gives a few precious moments of attention to the bass player before the guitars kick in -- enjoy your moment of glory, fella -- while album closer "True Companion" rounds out the proceedings with a short, meandering burst of spaciness that features layered vocals and something approaching a blues-rock groove. It's a satisfying way to wrap things up.
Good For You may not have rewritten the punk songbook here, but they are clearly a band interested in pushing back at its limits. Fans of Black Flag will probably groan that it's just not as good as Ginn's old stuff, but whatever. Life's Too Short to Not Hold a Grudge is a strong album, one that breathes a bit of new life into the genre. It deserves a wider hearing than it will probably get, but open-minded fans of guitar-based rock should take the time to give it a spin.