AGENT ORANGE: THIS IS THE VOICE (1986)
1) Voices (In The Night); 2) It's In Your Head; 3) Say It Isn't True; 4) Fire In The Rain; 5) In Your Dreams Tonight; 6) Tearing Me Apart; 7) So Strange; 8) Bie The Hand That Feeds (pt. 1); 9) I Kill Spies; 10) This Is Not The End.
Curiously, some reviewers still see it fit to employ the term «surf-punk» while describing bits and pieces of Agent Orange's second album, but this must stem from a common desire to look deeper than the soil (and find bare rock). Because, from a purely sensual standpoint, this is «apocalypse punk», darker, bleaker, much less friendly and much more pretentious than Living In Darkness. Retaining the melodicity and retro spirit of the original, the band moves further away from hardcore territory and somewhat more into artsy hard rock — a good decision, since it helps them to avoid the pitfall of «sophomore hardcore».
Because, come to think of it, normally it is hard to imagine a hardcore punk performer advocating you to "intensify the feel, the sound, the sight — I promise I'll be in your dreams tonight". You could expect this from a David Bowie, a Bryan Ferry, perhaps even a Sting, but from an Orange County whippersnapper? And yet it works, because the band keeps the hardcore crunch while letting go of the hardcore ethics. More than half of these songs smell of creepy mysticism; parts of this impression are due to awful production (the singer sounds like he's been placed in a bucket and lowered down a hundred feet-deep well, and all the instruments seem re-recorded by placing two cassette players next to each other), but even the awfulness of production, I believe, was, to a certain degree, deliberate.
That This Is The Voice somehow failed to become a bona fide Eighties' classic is something I'd like to ascribe to an unfortunate coincidence. Every single song here is memorable and «messageable», to coin an appropriate term on the spot. How can anyone with at least a passing interest in conspiracy theories or film noir, not love 'I Kill Spies'? How could 'Fire In The Rain' avoid being hailed as an epoch-defining anthem for its generation? Any possible explanations, such as lame production, defied expectations (people possibly wanted for the band to keep on delivering updates of surf classics), or lack of proper publicity, should by now be judged obsolete.
Even when the band slows down, almost descending into «goth-rock» on the doom-drenched 'Bite The Hand That Feeds' that echoes Joy Division, they still sound impressive: Palm rings, rather than rocks, his guitar like a set of hell's bells, and the rhythm section switch from breakneck pummeling into a stern metronomic mode as if it were no problem for them at all. Minimalistic arrangement is sort of crude for this attitude, of course, but it's not like in the Eighties you had to be a workaholic-master-technician like Robert Smith in order to get respect for your artistic drive — London Calling was done just as crudely, and look where that got it.
I have to admit, though, that This Is The Voice, if heard immediately after Living In Darkness, can be fairly off-putting. «Surf-punk» just somehow seems like an overall nicer idea than «apocalypse punk» whose new motto is to wail and to threaten rather than to bark and to hate. You have to give it plenty of time to grow and plenty of chances to convince you that «maturation from hardcore» can actually be finalized with success. Living In Darkness still wins out as the band's brightest hour because of its freshness, uniqueness, and energy combined, but here we have ten more songs every bit as valuable, if a lot different. Thumbs up.