This may come as a surprise to many of you, but one of my favourite albums of 2009 so far was not a punk rock album. Far from it. Despite AFI, Billy Talent, Green Day and Rancid all putting out fair-to-great albums this year, Nell Bryden's 'What Does It Take?' was my personal favourite for quite a while, and for quite a few simple reasons. Firstly, I'm a sucker for retro Americana sounds, which Bryden does impeccably. Secondly, and most importantly: she writes and performs with a real spirit of honesty and integrity that is missing from so much new music nowadays. It is soulful, beautifully down-to-earth, and well-crafted without being bent over a recording desk and being subjected to painful and pointless amounts of Pro Tools. This is not to say the above artists do not have honesty and integrity in their music, far from it, but Bryden, for me, offers the single best contrast possible to the hordes of manufactured, droid-like figures cluttering up the Top 40 with almost robotic beats and cliched lines. It's a refreshing blast, and a very enjoyable one too.
Now, you may have noticed that I said it was my personal favourite. That's because I've now got a new personal favourite, and guess what? It not only trumps 'What Does It Take?' in all the areas I highlighted above, but it's also an absolutely killer punk rock album. I now take great pleasure, ladies and gentlemen, in introducing you to The Submission, a band who are almost a living definition of the term 'punk rock', with 'Enjoy With Alcohol'.
Any readers of my reviews will know that The Submission are a personal favourite band of mine, having given them rave reviews for their 'Spaghetti Penis' EP and their chaotic performance at the Ska-Punk All-Dayer 2009, and when the band broke cover with their plans to bring out a 22-track album entirely consisting of originals, it was not an understatement to say that the levels of anticipation were high. It actually means that this review could be quite difficult; y'see, I want to try and remain neutral here, and not get bogged down in a sea of NME style 'this band will save your life' type eulogies, but to be quite honest, it's hard not to when you're being presented with such a glorious collection of pure-hearted, strong-minded anthems as this.
In my humble opinion, punk rock as a music genre is the perfect balance between blind rage and fury and catchy pop hooks. Too far down the blind rage path results in hardcore, and too far down the pop end results in bubblegum-style pop-punk. On this record The Submission go all-out to try and fit both ends of the spectrum into almost every single song they write, and what results are two to three-minute explosions of equal parts pure aggression and wonderfully catchy melodies. Sounds simple? What makes them so fantastic is the fact that The Submission do both so well, and what's more, the four individual members both stand out as individuals and simultaneously combine to create a well-oiled and tight-knit machine. Thankfully, both the songs themselves and the production (which, despite being a home-studio job, is very very good) give all the members their chance to shine, and they all gleefully take it with both hands. Frontman Richard Harris is a one-man wrecking ball of passion and fury in the vocal department, but very rarely does he have to resort to blind screaming to get his point across - his vicious snarl does that perfectly. The rhythm section is built on Stuart Cavell's near-destructive drum work, which blends chaotic rolls and crashes with iron-clad beat precision. The same could be said to some degree of bassist Sadie Williams, whose basslines flow in and out of songs like mercury; forming the musical backbone of a track one minute before spinning out on a subtle run or lick the next. It certainly guarantees that she doesn't fade into the background like too many rock 'n' roll bassists are guilty of nowadays. Not to be outdone, Harris and his partner in the six-string cohorts, Phil Morgan, lay down equal parts bruising and melodic riffs, and barely a single song goes by without a thrillingly chaotic solo or guitar break.
There are highlights aplenty across the album, and the first 10 tracks alone are 10 of the very best rock 'n' roll anthems you are likely to hear all year. The record kicks off with 'Stay In Action', an outrageously catchy and bouncy slice of ska-punk, before crashing into 'I'm Lazy', a celebratory two-and-a-half minutes of pure good-time rock 'n' roll, which then in itself gives way to 'No Tomorrow', which hammers out of your speakers on the back of an intro riff brilliantly purloined from The Clash's 'I'm So Bored From The USA'. If anybody can find me a better opening 10 minutes to a modern rock 'n' roll record, I will be glad to hear it, but for now, this sits proudly atop the pile.
Speaking of The Clash, this album could easily be renamed 'A History of Classic Punk Rock', such as it shamelessly nods to past legends such as The Clash, the Stiff Little Fingers, the Ramones and the Buzzcocks. This is hardly original stuff at all, but thanks to the sheer level of musical skill, energy and passion thrown at these songs, it may as well be. This is not blatant grave-robbing; this is an evocative celebration of how emphatically uplifting and powerful punk rock can be. The fabulous 'Soldier' is a good a tribute as any to the Fingers, particularly on account of it's anti-government vibe and rallying 'bring the troops home' message, delivered with almost feral, phlegm-spitting rage by Harris. In fact, it is as close as The Submission have got so far to writing an epic, running as it does at just over 5 minutes and opening and closing with a haunting military drum roll.
On the subject of anti-government diatribes, the blistering 'Government Lies' is a personal favourite of mine, and you can just tell that, somewhere, Johnny Ramone is hearing the fabulous four-chord riff which drives this vicious diatribe along - and he's grinning. The two highlights from the 'Spaghetti Penis' teaser EP - the Rancid-infused 'Reggae Rock Rebels' and the loud and proud 'You Just Don't Know' - are wheeled out here, and they slot neatly into the mayhem. There are only a couple of slight deviations to the overall formula - 'Discharge' opens with a menacing bassline before quickly exploding into a runaway freight train of low-fi, crackling guitar and Harris loosing his temper with the microphone, and 'Sanity' rides on the back of an almost slightly metal-style main riff.
I've racked my brains for criticisms, but the only one I can really think of is that I would have chosen another song to end the album on rather than 'She Said', which isn't quite an 'ending' song, despite being excellent. That's just a personal foible for me. You could perhaps throw the lack of changes in pace or experimentation charge at this, but to be honest, they have plenty of time on future releases to address that point. Right now, they are clearly having a lot of fun evoking the spirit of original punk rock, and I as a listener am having a lot of fun hearing the results. Long may The Submission keep producing records like this and touring with their incendiary live show.
Release Date: October/November 2010
Standout tracks: I'm Lazy, No Tomorrow, Soldier, Government Lies, You Just Don't Know, Get Up.