ADOLESCENTS: ADOLESCENTS (1981)
1) I Hate Children; 2) Who Is Who; 3) Wrecking Crew; 4) L. A. Girl; 5) Self Destruct; 6) Kids Of The Black Hole; 7) No Way; 8) Amoeba; 9) Word Attack; 10) Rip It Up; 11) Democracy; 12) No Friends; 13) Creatures; 14*) Welcome To Reality; 15*) Losing Battle; 16*) Things Start Moving.
The Californian hardcore punk scene has one solid advantage over most other scenes: while the kids who would later create it were growing up, their moms and dads grooved to the sounds of Jan and Dean and the Beach Boys, and even though these sounds may not always be directly reflected in their children's music, there is still a definite line connecting the two.
Adolescents grew out of Agent Orange, one of the first «surf-punk» bands, when Steve Soto, the bass player for the latter, decided to pursue a somewhat grittier line of work and teamed up with three former members of Social Distortion — so one might think of Adolescents as one of the first, and best, «supergroups» in hardcore. The original idea was... no, wait, there was no original idea. These guys would not go the way of the Dead Kennedys and their political agenda. The emphasis is on bare, brutal emotion dressed in the simplest, most accessible, musical forms.
Adolescents could play their instruments (like all good hardcore bands that managed to remain in history — the ones that didn't merely pretend to ignorance, but were truly ignorant, predictably lapsed into oblivion), particularly lead guitarist Frank Agnew, but the rhythm section of Casey Royer on drums and Steve Soto on bass was pretty hot as well. Not only do they keep up a great beat on all of the songs, but the basslines are occasionally melodic, and so are Agnew's solos. Singalong choruses, occasional «moody» interludes, throw in a talented way of creating lyrics that seem blurted out on the spot, yet are surprisingly smart when you take a look at them — no wonder Adolescents is widely considered as one of hardcore's peaks in the history books.
Hardcore spirit is no big friend of mine, but even I cannot deny being overwhelmed by these guys when they are at their most focused and collected. Strangely, the song length factor plays in reverse here: the longer these songs are, the better they get. Longest one, 'Kids Of The Black Hole', clocks in at 5:27, a sacrilege to hardcore formula, but, after a brief ominous intro, it's five minutes of non-stop apocalyptic frenzy that uses the metaphor of 'The Black Hole' — an abandoned apartment somewhere in Orange County used as a punk house — to complain about how life stinks in general, and how there's not much to do for a poor boy except to contribute further to the stinkiness. They just blaze on and on and on and on, doing a hundred and twenty on an endless highway, transforming this simplest of grooves into a one-of-a-kind generation anthem.
Second longest song, 'Amoeba', is respectively second best — another, very similar, fiery groove, this time comparing us humans to one-celled creatures whose life has no purpose: ring a bell? The Adolescents offer no way out of the cage, they have simply decided that the more you thrash against its walls, the more you're able to lay your mind off the really bad thoughts. By giving kicks, no matter how pointless, you get kicks, and if you ain't kicked real hard by 'Black Hole' or 'Amoeba', all I can say is your soul might be in good need of a descaling agent.
Shorter tracks either create props for longer ones or serve as quirky, fun little statements in their own right: 'I Hate Children' is pretty much defined by its title (and how many people have, at one time or another, secretly wished they could join a hardcore band to gain a right to sing "Kill all children dead"?), 'No Way' adds a mean militant spirit to the Ramones-pioneered "lobotomy rock" genre, 'Democracy' is a song whose lyrical message will be appealing to kids throughout the first world for as long as it has not been washed away by the third, and then there's 'Creatures', the band's signature song which is... pretty stupid, really. But it works.
To «get» hardcore, I believe, one needs to swallow it in one quick gulp, vodka-like, which is why all the classic hardcore albums are so short. Once Adolescents is over and you start wondering if there ever was a peculiar, individual taste to this record, or perhaps it was just like any other hardcore album ever done, completely interchangeable, it might strike you that not a single note really rang false; that the thirty-minute wave that threatened to drown you, but eventually left you just high and dry, came on as a true force of nature rather than a mere theatrical stunt, and that its center of gravity, 'Black Hole', must have hit you as hard today as it hit kids and grown-ups thirty years earlier. And they may not have known it themselves, but there is a great feel of balance on the record — between brute force and subtle intelligence, primitive chainsaw buzz and delicate, complex soloing, brevity of the punk statement and lengthiness of the carried-away jam. For all of this, Adolescents deserves a big thumbs up, and Orange County deserves not to be nuked, after all.
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