Having missed out on the first few decades of rock 'n' roll, it's hard to say when it became a fetish among the younger rock snobs to put each musical artifact into its correct micro-category. To eavesdrop on any earnest discussion of what is or isn't emo, or what is or isn't punk, is to catch the overwhelming scent of lives being utterly wasted. Robert Pirsig wrote at the end of Lila about a white woman asking a Native American man what kind of dog a passing mutt was, to which the man replied, "That's a good dog." That anecdote springs to mind a lot when listening to and reviewing music. The tendency to get out the scalpel and divide metal from prog, power-pop from hard rock, and soul from funk makes me wonder what the point of it all is.
Yet I do it anyway, and here we go again with another band, this one calling itself Dynamite Boy. At first blush they're an easy group to shoehorn, sounding quite a bit like the Green Day-derived pop-punk that Blink-182 popularized, complete with fierce but pristine playing and a spot-on Billie Joe accent on the vocals. Dynamite Boy have been around for close to a decade now and this self-titled release is their fourth effort, so visions of a band forming in the wake of Enema of the State can be safely disregarded (even if the same can't be said for Dookie). Still, there's something suspect about Dynamite Boy, as there is with pop-punk in general. On the one hand, the music conjures images of guys with wacky facial hair, piercings, trucker hats, and a spiffy anti-everything attitude. But on the other hand, the we're-gonna-rock-whether-you-like-it-or-not stance belies the fact that these songs are crafted to be as likeable as possible. Dynamite Boy is infinitely more likely to inspire parental nods of approval than outraged walk-outs at the album pressing plant. Those who hold the name of punk sacred and demand purity in everything to which the word is applied may be a contemptible and silly lot, but maybe in cases like this they have a point. This, after all, lifts the tempi and simplicity of punk without taking any of the ingredients that made punk such an inspiration in the first place. These guys may only use three chords, but it's obvious that they know a lot more. Their slick guitar solos and sweet harmonies won't make the average guy in the audience believe that he can do it, too. And though the anti-commercial ethos of hardcore punk is one of its most overrated qualities (not to mention the one most likely to inspire bouts of self-righteous indignation from those who demand that others live out their ideals for them), it's hard not to feel some twinge of embarrassment for anything even remotely connected to the Sex Pistols that grabs this shamelessly for the ol' filthy lucre.
Still, the question remains: is this a good dog? Rock miscegenation has been going on from the start, and if history has taught us anything, it's that the ones crying foul when X genre was blended with Y wind up looking like reactionary fools. Why shouldn't punk and pop be joined in marital bliss? After all, Dynamite Boy do most of the things you want a good rock band to do: they keep it short, they load up on the hooks, they have plenty of energy, and their craft -- an attribute stupidly maligned by punk purists -- is solid throughout. The mood is similar from start to finish (that mood resembling a slightly angry party), but a few choice curveballs keep it from getting stale. With all these things in place, it's something of a mystery why Dynamite Boy aren't all that enjoyable. Fans of the genre will probably like it, but Dynamite Boy can probably expect the same icy reception from the post-teen crowd that Blink-182 got. Perhaps it's the prerogative of any artist to take whatever material they want and do with it as they see fit, but Dynamite Boy isn't making a bold new synthesis so much as joining a movement that's coming awfully close to achieving the glossiness and faux-danger of vintage hair metal. Nirvana tried to invoke punk to get that taste out of our mouths, and those who bring it back in the name of the same idols do so at their own peril.