Circle Jerks - Oddities, Abnormalities, and Curiosities (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Circle Jerks

Oddities, Abnormalities, and Curiosities (1995)


With Green Day, Offspring, and Rancid proving that punk (or “punk”) bands could be profitable in the mid-90’s, major record labels went on a mad signing spree snatching up pretty much any punker that could potentially be viable, mirroring the grunge boom from just a few years prior. The great “Snatch-up” involved signing unknown bands, hot bands on the rise and in the Circle Jerks case, respected veterans that never really had mainstream success.

Released on PolyGram, Oddities, Abnormalities, and Curiosities was the first album after the band’s 1994 reformation following their 1989 break and would serve as their last to date. More than anything, the album showed that no matter how you tried to shape them, the raw power of the Circle Jerks would always shine through. It also showed that some bands just aren’t fit for mainstream taste.

Oddities, which unfortunately had a title that suggested b-sides and rarities, didn’t find the band trying make their sound “more commercial,” so much as it found them trying to position themselves in the new “punk friendly” world. In fact, the album’s best tunes were classic, short, jagged Jerks snappers that they had been writing since their debut Group Sex. Album opener, “Teenage Electric,” found Morris spitting out in that unique snarl, “Fuck me teenage, I’m electric!” Even at 45, Morris was able to convey pent up teenage frustration. It also helped that Greg Hetson, who probably never quite got his due as a riff master, supplies a classic first wave La punk riff that launched Morris into space. See also the clanking, edged “Sinking Ship” which perfectly blended the band’s pessimist-meets-mischief outlook.

That being said, there were some tracks on the album that bogged it down. Was the band just light on material (as they suggested in their My life as a jerk documentary, or where they half-heartedly skirting a more mainstream sound. The fact is, tunes like “Anxious Boy” seemed to circle a little close to pop-punk. That’s not to say that the band couldn’t have done pop punk, but on the track and its like-minded fellows, it sounded like the band might have been trying to not be themselves. When you’re the Circle Jerks, there is absolutely no reason to not be yourself.

It’s telling that one of the album’s most fiery tracks was a cover of the Soft Boys classic “I Wanna Destroy You.” In true Jerks snarkiness, the band teamed up with former teen-queen Debbie Gibson and cut a nasty, vicious version that capitalized on the viciousness suggested by the original’s lyrics. That’s not to say that the Soft Boys version was lesser than the Jerks version, but by the way the band just jacked the whole thing up into a pure punk smasher, burning off the slight country and folk influences, it made it sound like the band wrote the song themselves and even were using it as a new beacon to re-introduce the world to the band.

The fact was, Oddities did not catapult the band into mega fame. For the most part, long time fans picked it up and maybe a few newbies got into it. but, without any real explosion behind the album, the band once again broke up, though they would reform again later for live appearances. Thankfully for us long time fans, wasn’t a “Sell out album” (from a time when that term did sort of mean something) with the band radically hanging their sound and ethos for a buck. But, it wasn’t a bold, fiery statement from the band. It had some great tracks and some “meh” ones. Certainly, it’s a respectable addition to the band’s catalogue and while not, perhaps the most explosive way for the band to end their recording career, it is a fitting one. All that being said, what Oddities proved was that for the Circle Jerks, the magic never dried up. As “Teenage Electric” and “I wanna destroy you” proved, the band had the ability to rival their earlier recordings when they had the motivation. For further proof, just see how Morris took that motivation to OFF!...