In a way, it's a shame that The War Back Home resides on an indie label and will be heard by a relatively small audience, and will be reviewed mostly by punk rock fans in a punk rock context. If this were a bigger release, if it had a chance to hit the mainstream, the Ducky Boys would be credited with returning music to its three chord rock 'n' roll roots, while simultaneously bringing a social consciousness back to the genre -- without simply rehashing something we've already heard.
On one hand, The War Back Home is stripped-down rock music. The band has returned to a three-piece for the first time in three albums (only the current lineup was present for 2004's Three Chords and the Truth, however bassist/singer Mark Lind played a second guitar track on the record). There are no guest appearances on the organ; no samples from a scratchy Standells record. Just a guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer, tearing through one song after another. The trio has really made this work. While they borrow the same simple blues and rock riffs as they always have, their creativity in arranging these songs is something we've never seen from this band -- or many others in the history of the genre. Constantly during my first listen, I'd feel I knew where they were heading only to be hit by a musical left hook out of nowhere. And it works. It really works.
On another level, this record carries a lot of political, social, and emotional weight. Lind's lyrics have never shied away from telling things as they are or revealing his own personal stories in an intimate and raw fashion (he likely learned much about writing by watching his brother Rob, the genius behind Blood for Blood), but he's taken things to another level this time around. After lifting the curtain on the flaws in our social structure and our country's foreign policies, the back alley deals and corrupt politicians, the struggle of the poor in America, and the futility of our war in the Middle East, he simultaneously issues a call to arms while accepting defeat. It may seem like the two are irreconcilable, but both attitudes ring true through the lyrics. Life isn't black and white, and Lind has well-documented a journey through the light and dark greys. Some days we have the strength to stand up and do something, and other days we're lucky to have the strength to simply play the hand we're dealt. The songs reflect that; the lyric sheet paints a portrait of someone looking forward to a better world through the bars of the cage they've inherited.
The War Back Home marks another milestone from the Boston (USA) band: They've found some new sounds here. While there are tried-and-true Ducky Boys trademarks peppered throughout the album (including lyrical and musical references to some of their classics), there are songs that the first three records never hinted at. Drummer Jay Messina breaks away from his always-straight beats, adding marches and really playing with the dynamics of the songs. Guitarist Douglas Sullivan (playing on his second album with the band) chalks up some of the best backing vocals I've heard on a record in years. His open-chord playing and clear voice set him apart from the bar chords and vocal Lind-mimicking done by original guitarist Mike Marsden. He falls in as a great contrast to Lind's snarling lead vocals and rough-and-tumble bass-lines. Lind's own voice was greatly improved on the band's last album, and he's taken his singing to yet another level here. He's grown obviously more comfortable in his role as front-man, and sings with a loose confidence that is all new and is classic rock 'n' roll swagger. As a whole, while the group had a history of getting caught in monotonous blocks on their earlier records, every song here has a sound and soul of its own. They hit the mach-speed punk rock tunes, a slow `50s-style ballad, several great rock songs, and they even made a strong go at a reggae-rock track with the memorable "Bombs Away."
This album is great. Fans of the Ducky Boys won't believe what these guys are capable of when they hear it for the first time. Strangers to the band will feel like they've made a new friend for life. This album surpasses the punk rock genre without betraying it, and I can't imagine a fan of sincere, heartfelt rock music not finding something they love here. I can't wait to see what the Ducky Boys do next.