Album Review: Descendents – 9th & Walnut

Godfathers of pop-punk revisit their earliest material.

The Breakdown

Godfathers of pop-punk revisit their earliest material.
Epitaph 8.1

The Descendents formed in 1976 in Manhattan Beach, outside of Los Angeles. They comprised two boys in their early-to-mid-teens (Frank Navetta and Bill Stevenson) and bassist Tony Lombardo, a man in his early 30s. Still active today, Stevenson is the only remaining original member, with Lombardo and the late Navetta’s shoes now being filled by Karl Alvarez and Stephen Egerton respectively, and the inimitable Milo Aukerman serving as their lead vocalist. Whilst their early material flirted with melodic hardcore, the band are now more commonly awarded the dubious honour of having been the first ever pop-punk band.

Ahead of new material from the band which should be coming down the pike in due course, a world where international touring still isn’t totally safe and feasible has necessitated the release of new material from the Descendents. To this end, they have released ‘9th & Walnut’, some session recordings from 2002 of their reconvened original line-up playing previously lost material they originally wrote and performed between 1976 and 1980, some time before the release of their debut full-length album, ‘Milo Goes to College’ (1982). The title comes from the Hermosa Beach street corner where the rehearsal studio at which they originally played these songs was located.

‘Sailor’s Choice’ and ‘Crepe Suzette’ make for an infectious opening one-two punch, but the casual use of language like “they know that you’re a whore” on ‘Lullaby’ does grate on modern ears, its thoughtlessness perhaps partially attributable to the less enlightened era during which these songs were written and the age these young boys were at that time. Indeed, the blatant misogyny of the lyrics to songs like ‘Baby Doncha Know’ and ‘Ride the Wild’ can be seen as foreshadowing the recurrence of similar lyrical content later in the Descendents’ back catalogue on tracks that include the classic ‘Bikeage’. For their part, as more mature men, the band have since admitted their shame and embarrassment over their use of such lyrics.

Musically, the songs on this album are for the most part as short, hard, and fast as the songs on ‘Milo Goes to College’, but ‘I’m Shaky’, ‘Mohicans’, and ‘To Remember’ demonstrate the band’s early aptitude for performing slightly slower, more reflective material than the breakneck-paced punk songs for which they’re now known. Of course, ‘9th & Walnut’ has the latter type of song in spades, with ‘Like the Way I Know’ and ‘Yore Disgusting’ serving as notable examples. A cover of the Dave Clark Five hit ‘Glad All Over’ makes for a suitably fun and nostalgic closer to proceedings.

Following on from the rip-roaring ‘Hypercaffium Spazzinate’ (2016), this album is another late-career high watermark for the Descendents, easily eclipsing earlier works like third album ‘Enjoy!’ (1986). The songs feature a lot of the same flippant humour that would go on to characterise ‘Milo Goes to College’, whilst employing rougher, tighter production values (no bad thing in my book). ‘9th & Walnut’ will be a must-hear for even the most casual fan of the band or melodic punk music more generally. It’s almost on a par with their strongest work, and better than their weakest by several orders of magnitude. It will definitely satiate fans waiting for a new ‘proper album’ from the band, and it’s difficult to imagine there being that many collections of short, fast, fun, straight-ahead punk songs released this year that are as enjoyable as this. ‘9th & Walnut’ is out now via Epitaph. Order it here.

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