The great myth about punk rock is that it’s a “young people’s” music. Well, maybe in the beginning it was. But if you were 16 in 1977, you’re 50 now. If you grew up on punk, you probably still like it now. Will we all still be listening to punk music when we’re in our 70s? Without a doubt! I’m 40, and I’m guessing that’s pretty close to the median age of the punk rock record-buyer these days. And unlike the world of athletics, where aging diminishes performance, it seems to have the opposite effect in music. Older, more experienced punk bands often put their younger counterparts to shame. And if you think maturity lessens the energy and intensity of a punk group’s performance, clearly you haven’t witnessed an Avengers or Seven Seconds show in recent years. Perhaps the best current punk band going, OFF!, is fronted by a 56-year-old Keith Morris. And on record, some of my favorite albums have been made by what you could call “senior” citizens of the punk world. Here, now, are the ten greatest in my estimation. All of these albums were made by bands at least 20 years into their careers.
Faster Cheaper & Better Looking (2005) Chelsea-
Chelsea’s career trajectory resembled that of a lot of punk first-wavers’: early greatness, followed by an unsuccessful adaptation to the changing musical landscape in the early-to-mid ‘80s, followed by a long breakup, and culminating in an eventual return to form in the new millennium. Faster Cheaper & Better Looking reunited Gene October with James Stevenson and Chris Bashford from the “classic”
lineup (along with Buzzcocks bassist Tony Barber). Just as importantly, it’s a complete return to the textbook ’77 punk style of the band’s heyday. October sounds as pissed-off as ever. And as a collection of songs, FCL is a worthy follow-up to Alternative Hits…a quarter of a century later! Chelsea
9. Dickies- All This and Puppet Stew (2001)
If not quite as frenetic or brilliantly whacked-out as The Dickies’ classic early albums, Puppet Stew at least redeemed the band after phoned-in efforts like Idjit Savant and Second Coming. With pop-punk all the rage in the mid-to-late ‘90s, it was not surprising that a truly pioneering band of the style would want to come strong and show the young ‘uns how it was supposed to be done. Easily the best Dickies release since Stukas Over Disneyland, Puppet Stew reaffirms Leonard and Stan’s preeminent place in the pantheon of powerpop/punk.
8. Stiff Little Fingers- Guitar and Drum (2004)
While SLF made some really run-of-the-mill records after reuniting in the early ‘90s, Guitar and Drum found Jake Burns and co. rediscovering the plot in a big way. Returning to the “melodic punk rock with impassioned lyrics and vocals” m.o. of their heyday, the Irish punk greats offered a “mature” take on their classic sound. Anyone who’s ever caught SLF V.2 (with Bruce Foxton on bass) live can attest that this incarnation of the band takes no back seat to the original lineup. Guitar and Drum finally translated that live magic to the studio.
7. T.S.O.L.- Disappear (2001)
Over the years, TSOL went from hardcore to gothic punk to hair metal, and by the early 2000s the band had come full circle back to its punk roots. With Jack Grisham, Ron Emory, and Mike Roche all together again, the new TSOL sounded an awful lot like the old TSOL. Disappear, in all the best ways, is vintage TSOL – imbuing furious old school punk with poppy melodies and creepy overtones that surely suited the tenor of the times. I had a hard picking between this album and 2003’s Divided We Stand- which also rules!
6. Buzzcocks- Flat-Pack Philosophy (2006)
Unlike some of the bands on this list, the Buzzcocks have never made a bad album. So Flat-Pack Philosophy wasn’t so much a “comeback” as it was a slight return to form in the wake of the oddly dark-sounding self-titled album that preceded it. FPP is classic ‘Cocks all the way, and one of their best LPs.
5. Social Distortion- Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll (2004)
Somewhat famously, Social D’s new album has been harshly received. But its predecessor, the band’s first album without the late Dennis Dannell, is among the finest in the SD catalog. You never really replace Dennis Dannell, but the brilliant lead guitarist Jonny Wickersham was a more than adequate stand-in. And Mike Ness, the band’s only constant, came through with maybe the best lyrics of his career in addition to perhaps his catchiest-ever set of songs.
4. Descendents- Cool To Be You (2004)
Like Bad Religion (see below!), The Descendents have made an art form out of stylistic stagnation. The Descendents will always sound like The Descendents, and on Cool To Be You they came through with their most consistent collection since I Don’t Want To Grow Up.
3. Bad Religion- New Maps of Hell (2007)
You could argue that if you’ve heard one Bad Religion album, you’ve heard them all. But while the formula never changes, sometimes they make good albums and sometimes they make great ones. New Maps is one of the great ones, and it sounds like a band hopped up on rejuvenation pills. Faster, catchier, and more aggressive than they’d sounded in years, the reenergized Bad Religion of New Maps make you wish for 20 more B.R. albums!
2. Cock Sparrer- Here We Stand (2007)
The worst thing you can say about Here We Stand is that it’s no Shock Troops. But Shock Troops is probably one of the ten greatest punk records ever made. You’d be happy with an album even 75 percent as good as Shock Troops. Ok, check. But then you listen a few times and you realize it’s even better than that. Maybe it is as good as Shock Troops! If it’s not, it’s damn close. A classic effort from a classic band, and you know it’s anthems galore!
1. Dictators- D.F.F.D. (2001)
Released 28 years into the Dictators’ career, D.F.F.D. was intended to be the band’s final studio album. And if this indeed is the last we’ll hear of new Dictators material, what an amazing way to go out! Anyone would have been happy with a record that merely compared favorably to the titles from the band’s heyday. But D.F.F.D. surpassed those expectations by a mile. If it’s not THE best ‘Tators LP, it’s at least in the conversation. Just look at the songs: “Who Will Save Rock and Roll?”, “Pussy and Money”, “I Am Right!”, “Avenue A”, “What’s Up With That?”….True classics! Handsome Dick has never sounded better, Andy Shernoff has never written better songs, and guitarists Ross and Top Ten have never been more on fire! Straight-up, one of the best rock n’ roll albums ever made!
So there you have it. I’m sure I forgot or overlooked a few worthy choices. So pipe up and help me expand the list!