Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Retro Reviews: The Automatics - self titled
- from the original Mutant Pop one-sheet
Ah, '90s pop-punk! Either you loved it, or you hated it with a murderous passion. I loved it - and honestly it was the reason I started doing zines in the first place. I recently declared that my holy trinity of '90s pop-punk albums consists of Green Day's Dookie, The Queers' Love Songs for the Retarded, and Screeching Weasel's My Brain Hurts. Perhaps they all seem like safe choices. Fair enough. Assuming that Parasites' Punch Lines is my number four, I'll round out my top five with a less obvious selection. I'm going to go with my favorite band on my favorite '90s pop-punk label: The Automatics. Released in 1996 on Mutant Pop Records, the band's self-titled debut CD seems to be mostly forgotten. But in my humble opinion, it's aged pretty well over the last 18 years. And I can't say the same thing about all the pop-punk releases I touted back in the day.
The Automatics were one of the bands I most frequently and favorably reviewed in the mid-to-late '90s. I sought out their numerous recordings with a zeal I now reserve for German lagers and pastrami sandwiches. There were two things that put this Portland, Oregon trio near the top of the Clinton-era pop-punk class. Number one, they went back to the source for their inspiration. They weren't aping Screeching Weasel or Green Day. They drew their sound largely from the first two Ramones albums – rarely a bad thing in my book. Number two, the two Jesses (Kimball and Sutherland) were exceptionally talented songwriters who understood the perfect simplicity of early rock n' roll. Compared to the typically polished '90s pop-punk offering, The Automatics comes off raw and lo-fi. Rather than obscuring the consistently great songs and hyper-energetic playing, this actually highlights them. The band could have re-cut this album a thousand times in a better studio with a bigger budget, and not once would they have been able to top the minimalist genius of what they already had on tape.
The Automatics is one of those albums that you can just put on, and you've got yourself an instant party. It's total fun from the first note, mixing primal Ramones-ian thump with the harmonies and high spirits of bubblegum (they even cover "Chewy Chewy"!), a dash of Angry Samoans insult comedy, and a dancy garage-pop vibe a la The Hi-Fives. The hooks are all over the place, and the melodies are more infectious than Chlamydia on a college campus. It's a delirious, fast-paced romp, 17 songs whizzing by in well under a half hour. Yet it all comes off with a totally ballsy vocal delivery (something quite rare in the '90s pop-punk specimen), and the tough, scratchy guitars kick way harder than anything that was coming out of Sonic Iguana studios at the time. With song topics ranging from personal dissatisfaction ("My Life Is Shit") to good girls gone bad ("Prom Queen") to old-fashioned misanthropy ("Hate The Human Race") to the ultimate in unattainable females ("She Likes Girls"), there's something here for everyone. "All the Kids Just Wanna Dance" will make you wanna, uh, dance, and "I Can't Cope" is as good of a straight Ramones rip as the Riverdales or Head ever did.
Who knows if you'll ever see this particular disc in your travels? There were probably only a couple thousand of these ever pressed, so it's not like you can just find it anywhere. But if you do find it, given that the whole world has apparently forgotten The Automatics ever existed, it'll probably be tagged for less than five bucks. Money well spent, I say! The Automatics is everything punk music should be: fast, fun, simple, stupid, sometimes in poor taste, and so utterly listenable that you'll wear out the disc before you ever grow tired of it. Let's steal!