Anyone unfamiliar with No Use For A Name's history has probably never heard of their debut album, Incognito, which was released by the long-irrelevant label New Red Archives in 1990, and discreetly reissued by Fat in 2001. My copy happens to be a reissue, but the only noticeable improvement is that the horrendous nun-praying-alongside-some-dancing-cats logo of NRA has been pulled from the liner notes and the CD sticker. The sound quality remains the same, which is a good thing. Incognito is raw, flawed, somewhat amateurish in its execution, and really couldn't succeed otherwise; any illusions of grandeur would sink this record faster than Butterbean in a pool. Although it doesn't rank among NUFAN's best albums, it does an admirable job at providing the listener with a ton of fun.
The music on here is a rather strange mix of brutal punk rock, metal, and what can only be described as growling, courtesy of Chris Dodge (of Spazz "fame"). Now, I'm not talking about effeminate, light Iron Maiden-esque metal here. In spite of the metal influences, there are few solos on this album. The songs are constructed around a blend of pounding guitars, screaming, and transitions between slow and fast tempos. The track that epitomizes this sound is "It Won't Happen Again," which builds with slow-paced yelled verses before making an awkward transition to a blazing punk chorus. Those who enjoy NUFAN for their poppy melodies would do well to approach this album with serious caution; Incognito is filled with melodic moments, but the majority of these moments are of a nature that will appeal only to those who enjoy bands such as Sick Of It All, the Avenged, and Snapcase. Nonetheless, there are a few exceptions. "DMV" and "I Detest" are surprisingly direct in their approach to accessible punk rock, and would not be out of place on NUFAN's mid-90's albums. They are, however, simply not of the same caliber of the songs found on those gems, primarily due to Tony Sly's at-the-time undeveloped singing style and the band's incomplete search to find true cohesion and direction as a unit.
Incognito's biggest flaw lies in its pacing. Most of the songs begin with a nice intro...which then proceeds to go on, on, and on, until you find yourself wondering if the track is an instrumental. Take "Felix," for instance. Its duration is 2:24, but Tony only starts singing 1:08 into it. Now, the song's chorus is enjoyable in itself, but in this verse-less format it simply feels like a stand-alone chorus, a head without a body. There are never any build-ups. The music ranges from passable to good, so you won't ever find yourself cringing as you listen, but it detracts from the songs in that you won't feel a rush waiting for that great chorus to come along. You will merely listen, and, if you like hard-edged punk, enjoy, but the experience will be devoid of any genuine anticipation.
Lyrics? You can forget about the "relationship crap" some purists complain about when referring to the band's later albums. The sole relationship Tony Sly addresses is a seemingly bitter one ("she's just a power bitch / that I already know"). Sly's lyrical themes focus mainly on politics, mean people, and juvenile matters that need not be described here. At times he is pedantic: "People like you should be punched / Punched right in the face! / Feeding us your lies / Gonna put you in your place." On occasion, he shows signs of a burgeoning maturity: "This is not a puppet show / No one in the world is hanging on a string / Take a look around; there are people everywhere / They might be going in circles, but it's their own thing." And in "Truth Hits Everybody," he actually manages a few good lines that hint at greater things to come: "You had me thinking in a backwards motion / You use no Scope to smell your daddy's breath / She does not choose to use no suntan lotion / If you don't like the words, then you can guess." Wait, that's a Police cover. Well, he sings it with conviction.
Singing with conviction is not something that can be said about Chris Dodge. In fact, most of his "vocals" on this record (2 complete songs, a few verses, and backups) shouldn't even be classified as such. "Record Thieves" is a strange, strange affair in which Dodge appears to be randomly growling out the liner notes while the band plays out-of-tune. In "Weirdo," Dodge at least follows the music, but sounds so bizarre that it will be impossible for your ears, or your brain (which I recommend that you don't use to scrutinize the lyrics), to focus on anything but the guy. By the way, that latter song will go down in history as NUFAN's most experimental ever. You've never heard a song quite like "Weirdo" before, trust me.
This album just feels like a hodgepodge of good and bad ideas. There are some linear, enjoyable tracks ("DMV," "Sign The Bill"), some which fall a bit short due to the band's excessive reliance on the instrumental ("Felix," "Hail To The King"), and some which are only semi-interesting due to the hilariously awful growling of Chris Dodge ("Record Thieves," "Weirdo"). Essentially, Incognito is a light-hearted version of NUFAN; one full of little indulgences, goofiness, cheesiness, and most importantly, fun. For a mature and confident effort from the band, check out their latest album instead.