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Say what you will about Jeff Ott, his politics, or his apparent case of total insanity, but the man and his band, at a time, put out some damn good pop-punk records. 1996’s offering, Buzz, is in my opinion, the best overall album by Fifteen. Sure, other albums have damn good songs, but only this one manages to stay consistently terrific from start to finish.
Starting with the midtempo “World Starvation,” Jeff and Fifteen take us for a ride. Yes, the production leaves a lot to be desired, but every instrument comes in quite nicely. You can hear every lick of the guitar, every note of the bass, every chime of the cymbals, and each and every slipup and mistake. The music stays pretty standard with these three instruments, but harmonicas pop up in “World Starvation.“ It’s not the most complex music, but it’s catchy, upbeat, and has a nice level of grit that doesn't become overbearing. Some songs race by, some move along slowly, but every one of them is a rough gem representative of the East Bay sound of the mid-nineties.
Jeff Ott switches back and forth in the vocal department, going from his smoother vocals to the gruff vocals that would rarely appear on later albums. Of course, neither of these styles changes the fact that Jeff is a terrible singer, but regardless, his voice does indeed lend itself well to the music. Some people don't dig the gruffness, but I think it works well in most cases, except for when he butchers an Operation Ivy line at the beginning of “No Tion,” but he makes up for it with his bouncy “bah da bahbah.”
In the lyrics department, Buzz comes at a time where Fifteen was moving away from pop-punk songs about girls and moving towards pop-punk songs about politics. Previous albums had a little bit of each, but overall, they tended to lean more towards personal songs. This album has a better mix of the personal and the political. “Helter Smelter,” “Violation,” and “In Our World,” amongst others, makes up the political side, while “No Tion,” “Food Not Bombs,” and “Predisposition” demonstrate the personal. Regardless of lyrical content, every song on here rips, but having heard a superior version of “Food Not Bombs” on the live Allegra album, I am ever so slightly disappointed in the vocal delivery on this version.
But even with the slightly (and I mean very slightly) inferior version of “Food Not Bombs,” Fifteen’s Buzz is damn near perfect. It’s an album that stands as a turning point for the band, moving towards more political music, and as such, presents a more equal balance of personal and political songs. Yes, the production is not as polished as the band’s Sub City releases, but nonetheless, it matches the mood and content of the songs. If you can only check out one Fifteen album, this is the one. Hunt it down if you can; it's completely worth it.
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