In its twenty-plus years of history, punk rock sure has undergone some drastic changes. Today, holding up Johnny Rotten's lethal screams of "No Future!" against Blink 182's poo-poo pee-pee jokes gives a muddled picture of the genre's direction.
If there's a band that could be punk rock's Rosetta Stone, it'd be the Vandals. On Look What I Almost Stepped In, they overlap both the impotent rage of the genre's beginnings and the juvenile hijinks of latter-day bratcore. The Vandals still deal with themes of alienation, fury and helplessness, but they temper them with a contemporary disregard for tact. It's a really ugly world we live in, but it isn't going to stop the Vandals from smiling through the storm.
It's easy to enjoy the band's deceptively cunning mix of relatively substantial themes and sneering, smart-ass imagery. With flippant remarks thrown in at just the right times, the Vandals skate over emotional terrain with pithy observations that almost, but not quite, cover up the raw humanity underlying their songs. In songs like "Flowers Are Pretty," the band is cheerfully resigned to the nastier aspects of modern life: "I heard life is a wheel and you can't make it stop/If you try, it will flatten your head." The Vandals dabble with the same repressed fury that fueled the original punk explosion. This time around, however, it's a lot more fun.
The Vandals don't confine themselves to the worlds of disillusionment and anger, though. Several of the tracks on this record touch on more tender, mature topics, albeit in goofy ways: The band nods to parental sacrifice ("Sorry, Mom and Dad") and the deploring longing that accompanies a failed relationship ("The New You"). It hits some low points, of course, when it concentrates more upon being silly than being thoughtful -- as witnessed in "That's My Girl," which chronicles the antics of an alcoholic girlfriend, and "Get a Room," a rant against getting hot and heavy in public. And though the players knock out the same canned-punk noise as thousands of others, their generally delightful and clever lyrics overshadow the ho-hum riffage set in the background.
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Yes, life is hard, and punks have every right to be angry. That doesn't mean that they can't have some fun from time to time, as the Vandals prove on this album.