OFF!'s self-titled LP is nastier, faster, shorter, darker and more complex than the The First Four EPs. Only a band like OFF! would become more agitated after the monumental success of its debut.
While The First Four EPs perfected three chord hardcore punk slamming, the follow up presented a challenge. In a way, The First Four EPs was almost too perfect. Were they to record 16 more songs in that vein, OFF!'s members would just be repeating what they had already done. But, were they to do something entirely different, they might lose that wonderful, undiluted rage that made them so unique and matchless. But, as vocalist Keith Morris told us directly last week, the band didn't worry abut any of that at all.
"I've never been someone who looks back and says, 'During this period, we were shooting heroin and shooting opium in the testicle and the drummer drank champagne and was strung out...' I don't pay attention to any of that stuff. Just get down and do it!"
The band's unwillingness to analyze itself resulted in what is probably the best of all possible follow ups. The band still bases its sound in high energy, jagged, three chord riff smashing with Morris screaming over the top. But, where the band threatened to jump the rails on First Four EPs, on OFF! it flies off the track and smashes into the bank across the street.
Guitarist Dimitri Coats' playing has become more unpredictable. Coats comes from a background of more complex hard rock, so its possible that he has grown tired of playing only three notes a song. Here, while Coates retains the early '80s hardcore attack, his skill allows him to shift and bend the simple three chords into formats with great depth. Instead of simply slashing out the notes, he pulls them out to their fullest extent, and bends the end so that there are tiny jagged hooks after each strum. Instead of the notes having a single tone, they bend, starting much more distorted and darker than when they began, even though each note is about 1/4 of a second long.
Song structure has developed similarly. While the songs of The First Four EPs navigated around the standard verse chorus verse structure, here the songs are cut down to maximum minimalist statements. "Wrong" doesn't so much have a structure as an evolution. "Wiped Out" and "Jet Black Girls" use feedback and distorted noise as much as music for expression.
But, just as Coats has evolved, so has Morris. While the minute frontman has been self referential in the past, he amplifies that aspect even more. On "Cracked" he attacks the ennui of either Greg Ginn, of Black Flag, his first band, or of the Circle Jerks collectively, his second band. "Feelings Were Meant to Be Hurt" finds him both praising and lamenting the formation of the first wave of West Coast hardcore. Fascinatingly, Morris says that Germs frontman Darby Crash saved his life on "Jet Black Girls."*
Like Coats' guitar, Morris' vocals have become less predicable. At times, such as on "Borrow and Bomb," he shrieks along with the snapping riffs, sounding as vitriolic and frustrated as ever. But on other tracks, like "Wrong," he rambles in an angry contemplation that is almost as much spoken word as singing. And of course, he's even more dark than before. On "King Kong Brigade" he exclaims "I want to staple your scalp to the steering wheel!"
The berserk explosions of the songs is evident by the running times. Songs are even shorter than before, with most tracks clocking in at under a minute. Where OFF! used to cut songs down to their absolute minimum, now the band cuts them beyond even that, leaving vicious fragments, that in their fractured manifestation, allow the band to leap beyond its only real previous criticism: that as good as the music sounds, it's been done before.
Well, the shattered songs here are manic tiny pieces that snap together, sort of, but not without shredding your ears, in a dangerous combination that is new and classic at the same time. This has not been done before and this is the very best way to get sliced up.
*I have to know the story behind this! He also says he had Coco Puffs with "Mr. Scratch." If that turns out to be Lee Scratch Perry, my mind will just explode.