The Swingin’ Utters are one of the best punk bands ever, hands down. "Best," of course, encapsulating fully their high-quality musicianship led by multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Darius Koski, their incredible songwriting and mastery of styles, and the arcane lyricism of street punk poet Johnny “Peebucks” Bonnel. After 20 years of touring and timeless records, it’s high time for a tribute to one punk’s most accomplished mainstays. Red Scare to the rescue.
Ranging from high-profile bands like Dropkick Murphys, Fucked Up, Off with Their Heads and Street Dogs to lesser-known acts as Joe Coffee, Outlaw Dance Society, Moonshine and the Oozzies with a bunch of punk stalwarts like Teenage Bottlerocket, Left Alone, the Forgotten and Cobra Skulls also in the mix, Untitled 21: A Juvenile Tribute to Swingin’ Utters is one of the most capable and well-selected punk tributes in a long time.
Despite the stellar overall assembly of the tribute, it begins with one of the more questionable covers in Useless ID turning the saucy, horn-infused ska of the original "Unpopular Again" into a distraught melodic punk number that sounds extremely ‘Fat’ but is nowhere as good as the Utters’ version. However, this is quickly made up for with Roll the Tanks' rendition of “Windspitting Punk.” I wasn't terribly crazy about the band’s latest, but they do an incredible job on one of the Utters’ best. The current indie-hardcore powerhouse Fucked Up returns to their early Oi! influence on a gorgeously discordant take on the somewhat obscure “Lazer Attack.” California rockabilly act Moonshine put an interesting spin on the Utters’ Short Music for Short People track “Back to You,” while La Plebe amps up the tame acoustic “All That I Can Give.”
Of the more faithful covers on the tribute are Left Alone’s version of “23” and the Departed doing “I Need Feedback,” which sounds like a female-fronted imitation of the Utters imitating the Ramones. Russ Rankin of Good Riddance does a very nice Johnny Peebucks impression on “Beached Sailor,” and the Utters’ good friends, the Sore Thumbs, do the band right on “15th and T.”
Arguably the best cover of the compilation is Off with Their Heads’ take on “The Next in Line,” which is coincidentally what the Utters ended their set with last time they played Minneapolis. OWTH swaps out the acoustic guitar intro of the Utters for some sparse keys and incorporates the bouncy Midwest pop-punk into the Utters classic. Another standout comes from the extremely confusing Everybody Out!, though it seems like this is the Rick Barton incarnation complete with an acoustic train-track rhythm and outstanding harmonica solo. Sailor’s Grave act the Hollowpoints sound a bit like the Dickies on their cover of “From the Observatory,” but it works extremely well with the playful melody of the song.
There aren’t too many songs that detract, though Zero Bullshit doesn't do a whole for “Something Sticky” nor does Massacre Time with “Nine to Five.” The Frantic sounds a little Pro-Tooled on “Heaven at Seventeen” and the Oozies' “Storybook Disease” is pretty standard.
While few of the covers here can come close to matching the ingenuity of the Utters originals (with perhaps the exception of OWTH and Fucked Up), Untitled 21 is a sterling tribute to the immortal act paid homage on this record. Any Swingin’ Utters fan needs to pick this up, and the variety of artists featured means that punks from all ends of the spectrum will find something they enjoy on this release.