When Green Day found themselves flung from the status of lowly musicians to that of music biz celebrities, it was Berkeley's Lookout! Records that provided the catapult. Catchy but punky, uninnovative but memorable, 1994's major label mega-hit Dookie followed in the wake of two albums released on the East Bay's most influential imprint. The punk-pop scene nurtured by Lookout! and the communal performance space 924 Gilman Street was in a fine position to take advantage of Nirvana's commercial breakthrough, and bands like Green Day and Rancid did just that. (The various pitched battles that these moves precipitated, fought over credibility, accountability, and "selling-out", are another story.) Half a decade on, and with a huge A to Z (American Steel to Zero Boys, if you must know) roster of bands, Lookout! continues its mission of providing the masses with crunchy but sweet doses of punk-pop frenzy.
For those looking for a place to start, this 26-song sampler (six of which are previously unreleased) is ideal. Freakout Episode 2 follows on 2000's first volume with some of the same bands and nary a change in aesthetic. Lookout!'s physical expression is the pogo rather than the slam dance, and Episode 2 unleashes plenty of opportunities to jump up and down. American Steel's "Turn It Out" opens the album with a Fugazi-esque guitar line mated to a Sleater-Kinney-like chorus. Like much of this collection, it's enjoyable without being entirely original. The '70s metallic crunch of the Donnas -- no longer jailbait but just as nasty -- is represented with "Do You Wanna Hit It?" from their recent album Turn 21. One of Lookout!'s best known bands, the four young women from Palo Alto root themselves firmly in the bad-girl-group tradition of the Runaways, but their current position echoes no one so much as Britney, a star of similar age who's also attempting to grow up without losing her youthful, huh-hmm, allure.
The reformed Bratmobile play "90's Nomad" like the reductive "rrriot grrrl" media frenzy never happened. Bis is the odd-band-out here, and although the bubbly techno-disco of "Dead Wrestlers" isn't fantastic (too stuck in the mid-'80s), it does provide a brief, early respite from the guitar-drum-bass onslaught. (It also gets lambasted on the label's Web site -- see below -- and what's more punk than that?) The always enjoyable Screeching Weasel turn in another short and fast winner about the "cute-but-not-too-cute" "Pauline"; up-and-comers Alkaline Trio slow things down, briefly, on "Hell Yes". Rounded out with Bay Area heroes the Mr. T Experience (with an appropriate ode to the Ramones), the Queers, Yesterday's Kids, and a clutch of others, Episode 2 offers a more than sufficient collection of jaggedly melodic, three minute bursts.
But why trust me? An over-30 suburbanite is not exactly the target demographic here. Lookout!'s enthralling Web site features album reviews from the record buying public itself. You'll never find a more personal, if grammatically questionable, assessment. "JoeySadistic" has this to say: "Dude, don't fucking buy this. Buy Lookout! Freekout one, but save your fucking money. This CD really sucks. What the fuck is with bis, they are like, fucking techno, not punk. I could write volumes on the horridness of this record, but I'm too fucking lazy. In short, dont fuckin buy it." If that alone isn't reason enough to run out and buy, "jacklany" gives Freakout Episode 2 a more representative, 5 star preview: "Even better than episode 1 (if this possible)! The physical proof that Lookout! bands just keep evolving and making music that gets better and better. All songs brilliant. My 2002 resolution is to by a record of every single band on this comp (even tough I own a lot of em already). Keep support the scene!" Indeed.