ADOLESCENTS: BALBOA FUN ZONE (1988)
1) Balboa Fun Zone (Riot On The Beach); 2) Just Like Before; 3) Instant Karma; 4) Alone Against The World; 5) Allen Hotel; 6) Frustrated; 7) Genius In Pain; 8) It's Tattoo Time; 9) Til' She Comes Down; 10) Modern Day Napoleon; 11) I'm A Victim; 12) Balboa Fun Zone (It's In Your Touch); 13*) Runaway; 14*) She Walks Alone; 15*) Surf Yogi.
Recorded without lead vocalist Tony Cadena; Steve Soto and Rikk Agnew share most of the vocal duties, and you can actually tell the difference because in between the two of them, they sound a heck of a lot uglier than Tony used to be on his own. Not that it matters — we're not exactly talking La Scala out here. Hardcore music calls for hardcore values.
But is this really hardcore music? Without the speed, the intensivity, the youthful aggression of old? The Adolescents' third album seems to make even fewer nods to their rebellious past than its immediate predecessor. 'Riot On The Beach' starts things on the proper note (even though that main riff sounds suspiciously Anthrax-like, showing off their interest in thrash) — fast, flashy, and totally furious, but then the band, once again, starts veering off on all sorts of tangents, digging into power pop, retro-metal, surf-rock, even folksy acoustic musings.
Upon first sight, all the nasty things that could be said about Brats In Battalions are just as easily applicable to Balboa Fun Zone, with the addition of lamer vocals. Upon second sight, this is a major improvement: the band has finally learned to add expertise and convincing force to many of their ventures in all these genres. They may not have learned to justify their existence, but at least they have made it more tolerable.
Thus, the obligatory unpredictable cover — this time, John Lennon's 'Instant Karma', no less — is a lot better, because they mostly stick to the original mood, melody, and tempo, without any silly attempts at «deconstruction»: it's a solid, faithful, tribute that preserves the tune's fine spirit (although why in the world it needs to preserve anything still remains a mystery), even if the vocalist sounds like he'd been living in a trash heap north of the Polar Circle for most of his life.
Some of the gritty hard-rockers are also quite good, mixing catchy choruses with well-played crunchy riffs ('Til' She Comes Down', 'Allen Hotel'); again, provided that one's nerve centers react well to mixing punk with metal and power-pop at the same time. Lyrically, there's nothing interesting going on, and few things can be more irritating than, e. g., sincere odes to the art of mutilating one's own bodies ('It's Tattoo Time'), but when they're played with verve and the chorus is memorable, who really cares?
All in all, I really think that Balboa Fun Zone does a much better job at finding its potential audience, but it is still hard to understand what kind of an audience that might be. The craft has been improved, the souls have matured, and the result is a well-made album that has no clear reason for having been made. Are they being serious? Ironic? Post-modern? Ante-modern? The next time you hear someone dismissing solo McCartney as «pure fluffy craft», tell him that McCartney, at least, knew when he was going for prime time «fluff» with a clear-cut goal of putting you into an intentionally fluffy mood. Albums like Balboa Fun Zone, on the other hand, simply do not know what it is they are going for. No matter how catchy a song like 'Allen Hotel' is, no one is ever going to make it his first choice for being in a mood for hard rock.
So it is a good thing, in the end, that the Adolescents' second attempt at ruling the world came to an end in the spring of 1989, when they called it a day once again. Historical interest is by far the only reason to listen to this period's output, unless you happen to be really out of hard-rocking material — but even in that case, will these middle-of-the-road studies in seneselessness bring you satisfaction?
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