The Spades - Learnin’ The Hard Way (Cover Artwork)

The Spades

Learnin’ The Hard Way (2004)

Go-Kart Records

There is one word that captures the essence of The Spades' Learnin’ The Hard Way: mean, just plain mean. In terms of how it sounds, The Spades crank out big, technical, fast guitar riffs alongside pounding beats and growling vocals. There is a slight nod to the New York punk n’ roll sound done by bands like Electric Frankenstein, but these five Dutchmen sped up the pace greatly by comparison. In terms of the lyrical content, every single song on Learnin’ The Hard Way… focuses on gang violence: “Hit n’ Run”, “Hurt You Again”, “Beat Me” and “Random Violence” are a few titles that likely won’t win over anyone searching for more inspiring themes. “You scream and shout, I’ll punch you out!” and “Beat me, I fucking like it!” are two of the more tame choruses angrily yelled throughout the record. Rightly or wrongly, The Spades make it clear that they want to lead you into a dark alley and give you a whooping. This vibe is successfully carried throughout these 13 songs of pure anger.

This release of Learnin’ The Hard Way… also features four bonus tracks recorded in Seattle that feature Mark Arm from Mudhoney on piano and backing vocals. Given the paragraph above, this may seem like a stretch for some to believe, however these additional songs are notably different from the first 13. The band takes a less aggressive and less visceral approach to their riffs and beats, but the lyrics remain filled with gang violence references with titles like “You Had It Comin’” and “Friday Night Riot”. The result is something goes for an MC5-esque throwback blended with modern punk.

Punk rock is a type of music that is mean and angry. It doesn’t always have to be, but many times it should be. The Spades maybe got a little too excessive with the beat downs on Learnin’ The Hard Way…, but it’s still a lost gem that deserves a listen if you ever get the chance. Just remember to bring some brass knuckles.