Pennywise - About Time (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


About Time (1995)

Epitaph Records

Every young, emerging punk rocker has that one gateway album--one band that kicked a door open that up to that point you weren’t even aware existed, that reveals an attitude and an energy encapsulated within music that up to that point in your young life had been obscured behind a veil of MTV, FM radio and the overall bland, middle-of-the-road tastes of the masses. For this developing then-twelve-year-old kid, Pennywise’s About Time was like nothing I’d ever heard, and it brought the hammer down upon a wall in my head. My brother lent me his CD to copy to cassette tape, and I proceeded to listen to that tape until it wouldn’t play anymore. Literally. I learned that music could be angry and discontent. Music could overflow with youthful, rebellious energy. Music could capture that feeling of angst that had just begin to bud in my developing mind, ensuring me I wasn’t so alone. There were other people who not only experienced something very similar within their hearts, but were able to capture this vibe and transmit it to kids like me via a style of aggressive, adrenalized music called “punk rock”. It was a revelation and a breakthrough.

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for About Time. Its combination of Bad Religion-style punk rock with thrash metal-influenced guitars feels fresh even to this day, and the sense of alienation conveyed within Jim Lindberg’s lyrics still speak to certain harsh truths. And unlike contemporaries such as Green Day and the Offspring, Pennywise stayed true to their independent roots, opting to go their own route rather than shoot for the mainstream stratospheres. Offered several contracts while in production of About Time, Pennywise stuck to their guns and a certain punk ethos, and enjoyed success on their own terms. So while kids such as myself were, by 1995, well acquainted with the Green Days and Offsprings of the world, the discovery of Pennywise felt like my very own secret, like I’d caught something special under the radar, and I was on the cutting edge of something hardly anyone knew about. Sure, punk rock was well-tread ground for many, with a rich history that extended far beyond the admittedly adolescent energy of Pennywise, but to me, About Time was my first real peek at some kind of secret society that I very, very much wanted to be a part of.

Pennywise also carried with them a certain air of danger. Stories followed them, speaking to confrontation and controversy. One such story that struck me was the legendary appearance on the radio show LoveLine, during which guitarist Fletcher Dragge, a true Sasquatch of a man, showed up to the studio black-out drunk and proceeded to not only swear mercilessly and derail the show with open hostility towards the hosts, but to then projectile vomit all over the studio, then pin down Dr. Drew and vomit on him, too. Fletcher’s torrent of puke had conveniently short-circuited the control board--it all went on the air, a circus of perfect chaos. It was like a story you’d read about a modern day barbarian, but it was this punk rock band that I had just started listening to. It was fucked up, but for some reason it fascinated me. I guess it was because it was an act against what was normal and expected and polite. It disrupted the niceties that most people would strictly adhere to while visiting a radio station. And it was just all-around bizarre. You don’t hear about Aerosmith pulling shit like this! While I do not condone this LoveLine debacle (which has since rightfully contributed to Dragge’s reputation as a big, bro bully, an entirely un-punk entity), it certainly stuck with me at the time as something unexpected, equal parts horrific and exhilarating. These guys were fucking wild!

The most striking element of About Time was its unbridled energy. The songs rage out of the speakers with such vitality, such petulance towards a range of society’s ills. Beginning with album opener “Peaceful Day”, which bursted to life with Dragge’s screeching pick-slide into signature thrashing guitar, given purpose by the urgency of Lindberg’s vocals and lyrics. Dragge’s guitar was the defining element of Pennywise’s sound, and he was never better than on About Time. The heavily distorted guitar grinded and buzzed with palpable aggression, front-and-center in the mix. His guitar style sounded like a punk kid who grew up listening to Black Flag and the Descendents as well as Slayer, and it played a large part in defining what would come to be known as “skate punk”.

It was the third song on the album, “Perfect People”, that stuck with me most as a young teenager. Here was a song carrying such a feeling of alienation, of being an outcast kept at arm's length from the “normal” crowd, that I related to so much in my own awkward struggle growing into a young man and never feeling like I fit in. And Pennywise expressed it with such anger! The grumbling bass in the beginning of the song, the enraged yeah yeah yeahs as the song builds to an explosion of pure thrashing intensity. ”Screw the perfect people, fuck, they all look the same!” Lindberg sang in the chorus, and I sang right along in my room, to no one. Yeah, screw the perfect people! How dare they ”look so good like a box of fresh-wrapped Twinkies” (a favorite, perfectly dopey line)? It was lightning in a bottle for me and many kids my age. “Not Far Away”, “Searching”, album single “Same Old Story”... all of it spoke to the inner-misfit, to the kid who always felt like they were on the outside looking in. I ate it up.

Pennywise enjoyed punk rock success following the release of About Time, a wave which they still ride to this day. Eventually bass player Jason Thirsk would commit suicide, and Pennywise would never recapture the excellence of About Time. They would go on to repeat their formula to wavering results, cultivating a fanbase extending well out of the punk rock world. Their song “Bro Hymn” would remain both their most popular song, as well as contribute to the “bro punk” stereotype many would learn to negatively associate with Pennywise.

I’m now 32 years old, and my punk rock tastes have evolved. My brother who introduced me to About Time, as well as several other punk bands and albums, now listens almost exclusively to the Zac Brown Band and Uncle Kracker. But still, the love I feel towards punk rock burns strong, and that initial spark caused by About Time is largely responsible. Because of that album, I felt the desire to dig not only deeper into newer punk bands I had never heard of, but also to work backwards through the punk bands of yesteryear that influenced them, thus helping to flesh out my love for all that is punk rock. But still, from time to time, I’ll put on About Time, and find myself transported to a time when I was trying to figure out the world, and punk rock showed itself as a beacon in the dark. It brings me back to the time in junior high and high school when I would scrawl band names in Sharpie on my backpack, in hopes of any fellow members of the elite punk club seeing, getting stoked, and befriending me. I met some of my best friends to this day that way. It was exciting and new, and helped shape who I am. And for that, I’ll always be appreciative.