“Our band could be your life.”
“Punk rock changed our lives.”
“This is Bob Dylan to me.”
Actually, even if “History Lesson – Part II” were reduced to an instrumental, it would still be a highlight because of those ringing guitar tones; this has more jangle than most jangle pop bands. I’m glad Pitchfork singled this one out for its list of best songs from the 1980s; if I had to reduce Double Nickels on the Time to a single song, it would be “History Lesson.” (Or “Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing.”)
Speaking of ringing guitar tones, “Themselves” is powered by a single chord, so you can better make out the lyrics and Hurley’s drumming.
The call-and-response of D. Boon’s vocals throughout the excellently titled “Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Truth?” which makes it seem like he’s having a debate (“Should a word have two meanings?” “What the fuck for?”) to imitating an entire country (“I stand for language.” “I speak the truth.” “I shout for history.” “I am a cesspool…for all the shit…to run down in”).
Every second of “A Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing” (another great title), but specifically: “If we heard mortar shells, we’d cuss more in our songs! And cut down on guitar solos!”, that’s followed by the completely self-aware and fantastic guitar solo.
The title of “The World According to Nouns.” (Song itself ain’t much; bass-driven passing weirdness.)
“#1 Hit Song” coming in like a train (it sounds exactly like Jimi Hendrix’s “Cross-Town Traffic”).
The killer riffs of “#1 Hit Song” and “Jesus and Tequila.”
Mike Watt’s bass being punctuated by D. Boon’s three-note bursts on “Viet Nam.”
They really took their name to heart, didn’t they?
Jokes aside, I’m quite sure this is the Greatest American Album of the 80s, by which I don’t mean the greatest album released by Americans, but rather the greatest album that provides a snapshot of America that was released in the 80s. Other contenders: X’s Los Angeles and Sonic Youth’s Sister and Daydream Nation. (From other decades: The Rolling Stones’ best; Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends; Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois; Bob Dylan’s best; Sly & The Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, etc.)
This is post-punk that takes the term to its most literal meaning: by which, I mean, this is punk rock that’s tired of punk rock’s rejection of complexity: bassist Mike Watt plays funk while guitarist D. Boon plays guitar like he had just finished listening to John Coltrane’s later period (though “This Ain’t No Picnic” was famously created in response to D. Boon’s boss who wouldn’t let D. Boon play jazz music in an auto parts store – dubbing it ‘nigger music’, the whole album can be taken as a response). Even drummer George Hurley sounds jazz-influenced (ie. “The Politics of Time”). Further evidence: they namedrop X and the Clash as influences on “History Lesson – Part II”, two punk rock bands who had similarly transcended punk; they cover Steely Dan, another jazz-inspired American rock band with commendable instrumental chops (“Dr. Wu”; not a highlight but not a lowlight either thanks to the off-harmonies); there’s a vague – very vague – concept tying everything together (mostly just snippets of car sounds); you get the feeling they only added the car noises because rival Husker Du released a concept album just before and they had to respond; “Take that, Huskers!” They are politically-inspired, but their politics – though vague – seem to come from somewhere genuine (probably because they were there for Reagan) and thus, are still relevant today. And, unlike a lot of punk or post-punk bands, the softer numbers (“History Lesson – Part II”; “Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Truth?”; “Cohesion”’s Latin drift) are highlights that help break up the album in a way that somehow doesn’t sacrifice momentum.
This is one of many albums that works because of how many songs there are (other examples include the Beatles’ double album and the Magnetic Fields’ triple album), even if not every song were perfect (ie. “You Need the Glory”’s scatting; “Martin’s Story,” which sounds like George Hurley’s audition tape for the band and then some guitar, bass and vocals added after to give the impression of a song; the live cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Don’t Look Now”); maybe the band doing the Ummagumma thing of letting each member have his own side was a miscalculation because the last stretch is a de factocollection of leftovers dubbed “Side Chaff” by the band. But even the weak songs fly by thanks to their short runtimes and fast tempos; for a 43/44-song album (depending on your version), this one’s killer-to-filler ratio is off the wall.
The album closes with the sounds of being in the backseat of car at night, with the windows rolled down, listening – yeah, listening – to the moonlight.
The album opens again with the sound of car’s engine being turned on.
“SERIOUS AS A HEART ATTACK!”