The Afflictions: Janet Style

The Afflictions
Janet Style

Ever since the rock media realized that there was as much, if not more, excitement floating around for nostalgic glances backwards as there was for flavors of the month that were best forgotten as soon as they were discovered (I’m looking your way, Avril), anniversary years have become huge events for Rolling Stone, Spin, and many lesser-known publications. The latest ballyhoo has been about the 25-year mark for punk, and after watching Good Charlotte blandly smash up their instruments on MTV’s quaint little awards show, it’s easy to see why people are still aflame for the originators of such purported mayhem. But one of the countless things that Good Charlotte doesn’t know is that they’re copping all the wrong things from their forefathers. Senseless destruction aside, bands like the Clash, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the Buzzcocks, the Jam, and the Undertones have few rivals for writing tuneful roars even with a quarter-century of trying. Even with a quarter-century of listening, most so-called fans still miss the point of what these hallowed groups were doing. For all the talk of musical incompetence and strict simplicity, the secret behind the best of the era was marvelous songwriting. Great punk albums manage to avoid monotony despite at least a superficial similarity among the songs, and anyone hoping to live up to this legacy needs to do the same.

Chicago’s the Afflictions are one of the many, many bands around today trying to live up to the faster-louder-shorter tradition essayed by the aforementioned punk gods. Their debut EP, Peotone, may not have done the job with unqualified success, but it was good enough to whet appetites for a longer recording and a significant push for the big time. Lo and behold, that time has finally come with the arrival of the long-playing Janet Style. Leapfrogging its predecessor’s running time of fourteen minutes might not seem like a big deal for most bands, but for the Afflictions, it’s a crucial test. Heard in such a small dose, the Afflictions were enjoyable, but Peotone would likely have grown tiresome had it continued on for ten more minutes. The band’s sound, most notable for frontman Jeremiah McIntyre’s yelping vocals and Kelly Argyle’s honking sax, is bracing at first, but simply making a lot of noise will only get you attention. Maintaining and rewarding it requires more subtle gifts, and Peotone left some doubt as to whether the Afflictions had them, with far too many songs sounding confused and cluttered.

Janet Style, coming so quickly afterwards, should by all rights have been more of the same, but instead, it shows real growth in exactly the areas they needed. The opener, “Ain’t Nobody”, doesn’t display it very well, but the rest of the tracks demonstrate drastically improved clarity. No longer do the songs sound like good ideas buried by needless debris; they sound like good ideas, plain and simple. A band with such an obvious credo of spastic energy would have surprised no one had they failed to ever channel their collective juices in a productive direction, but the Afflictions seem on their way to beating the odds. The players are making enough room for each other, thus trimming the group’s natural chaos from an unruly afro to a manageable pompadour. Had they not, they might have run out their days inducing more headaches than fist-pumps. It would be nice if the band continued their growth spurt and, among other things, kept their inside jokes on the inside instead of littering the packaging and some of the album’s substance, but for the meantime, they can honestly say that they’ve accomplished more in the time between Peotone and Janet Style than the Rolling Stones have in the last twenty years … except for, you know, making all that money.