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Friday, July 8, 2011

Agent Orange: Virtually Indestructible


AGENT ORANGE: VIRTUALLY INDESTRUCTIBLE (1996)

1) This Is All I Need; 2) Make Up Your Mind And Do What You Want To Do; 3) Electric Storm; 4) Wouldn't Last A Day; 5) Let It Burn; 6) Broken Dreams; 7) Unsafe At Any Speed; 8) So Close And Yet So Far; 9) The Truth Should Never Be Concealed; 10) You Belong To Me; 11) Just Can't Seem To Get Enough; 12) Tiki Ti.

Well, obviously, your band will be «virtually indestructible» when you reserve the right to rotate band members at will around your sole exclusive personality. The rhythm section here is Sam Bolle on bass and Charles Quintana on drums and there is nothing of note that could be said about them except that they probably wouldn't be there in Palm's band if they didn't know how to keep the beat and steer the groove. But there they are.

Considering that Agent Orange, a.k.a. The Mike Palm Project, had only released three original studio LPs in twenty years, it would be understandable and forgivable if they all sounded the same; miraculously, they all sound seriously different. On Indestructible, Palm pretty much lo­ses the last traces of «punk», everything bar the angry spirit (which is, after all, diagnostic of any good rock'n'roll, not just the Ramones/Pistols-twisted variant of it). This is more like «garage metal». Or «hard pop-rock». Or... well, you can come up with your own favorite synthetic term.

The major difference is the guitar sound: here, it is big, fat, sonically overwhelming, deeper, den­ser, lower, and more distorted than it used to be, which normally does suggest moving away from «punk» into «pop metal» territory («pop», because former punksters usually lack the chops to begin competing with true speeders and thrashers). On practice, this often leads to awful results — lotsa head-splitting noise with no positive side effects — but Mike Palm is a smart guy. Most of the songs here are either (a) anthemic, meaning that the noise is compensated by catchy sing­along and fight-along vocal melodies, or (b) riffalicious, meaning that the noise is somehow mol­ded into a series of distinct notes, out of which there sometimes emerges a tremendous hook.

Both categories are best illustrated by the opening tracks. 'This Is All I Need' is a perfect rip-roa­rer, on which a hundred-percent sincere Palm asserts that "I'll never stop until the music takes con­trol" to a breakneck-speed-beat. Normally, I'd expect this kind of song to open one of those dinosauric comeback albums that need a one-two-three kick-start punch to convince the listener on the spot — Aerosmith really need to consider covering this — but since, with Agent Orange, it is hard to speak of «comebacks» («Halley's comet» is rather the term that springs to mind), it is sad that such a classy punch will basically be wasted into thin air. 'Make Up Your Mind', on the other hand, is just a catchy hard-rocker that could as well come from the hands and minds of, say, Accept — its chorus, whose simplistic message seems to have been decoded from a 1967-launched time capsule, is also anthemic, but it is nowhere near as at­tractive as the metallic riff used for the verses.

From then on, the two approaches — anthems with fat tones and riff-rockers with subtler me­lodies — alternate between each other in compa­rable quantities, with only one or two notable exceptions: 'Broken Dreams' is an almost sunny power pop number, and 'Tiki Ti', coming at the end, is like a sudden remembrance that, decades ago, this band had a reason to be labeled «surf punk», and this saddles it with a reputation that needs to be upheld.

Overall, as you may have guessed, the album is far from a masterpiece, and will never threaten to upstage Living In Darkness as the reason to remember Agent Orange, but it is still a decent col­lection that rocks much better than you'd expect a former hardcore band to rock fifteen years after its bursting-out masterpiece. Thumbs up, modestly.


Check "Virtually Indestructible" (CD) on Amazon

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