Toxic Reasons - Essential Independence (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Toxic Reasons

Essential Independence (2015)

Beer City records

Toxic Reasons formed in Dayton, OH toward the end of 1979. The band was put together by oversized singer Ed Pittman, based on the members’ mutual love of the Sex Pistols. He and his like-minded friends managed to release a couple of singles, and eventually their debut full length Independence in 1982. Soon after, Toxic Reasons relocated to San Francisco and Pittman left the band. Guitarist Bruce Stuckey then took over lead vocal duties and the core of the group soldiered on. Toxic Reasons released their 9th and most recent LP, No Peace In Our Time, in 1995, and the band still exists in some form today.

Independence is an often overlooked classic of Midwestern and American hardcore. It’s also a record that I’ve been trying to find for years. I’d just never found the right copy in the right condition at the right price. Now the good people at Beer City Records have taken the thrill from my hunt. I opted for the CD/DVD set, but it is also available as two separate 12 inch records for you vinyl fiends. The CD contains the complete remastered Independence LP plus their two early singles plus an entire live show from 1981. The DVD contains their 20th anniversary show featuring the Independence era line-up.

In the early 80’s, Toxic Reasons was doing what bands were doing all across America and beyond. They were taking the sounds of the first wave British punk groups and pushing them harder and faster. “Mercenary” and “Drunk and Disorderly” are perfect examples of what would become known as American hardcore. Toxic Reasons was doing in the Midwest what The F.U.’s and Black Market Baby were doing on the East coast and what Fang and Poison Idea were doing on the West coast. Even the names of the songs were constantly shared and recycled. For “War Hero” and “Noise Boys”, Pittman puts on a fake English accent and you can really hear Sham 69 and the Cockney Rejects. It’s fascinating to dissect the band’s various influences. It’s also fairly easy, as they are so openly on display.

The scars of the Vietnam War can also be felt on Independence. As children a decade earlier, the members had seen the violence unfold nightly on their TV screens. “Riot Squad” and “Somebody Help Me” compare the Reagan years to Nazi Germany. These were also common themes of the times. “Ghost Town” is a less than flattering tribute to their Ohio hometown. Musically, it’s white boy reggae in the style of The Ruts or Stiff Little Fingers. “White Noise” borrows a bit too much from The Clash's “London Calling”. “Killer” questions American conformity, while “How Do You Feel” questions American foreign policy. “The Shape” is a sped of cover of the psychedelic hit “The Shape of Things to Come”. (Was the title changed to avoid paying royalties? This was common practice at the time in punk circles.) “Rally Round the Flag Boys” is great example of an anti-patriotic song, also popular in the 80’s.

All five of the songs from the War Hero (1980) and Ghost Town (1981) 7 inches were re-recorded for Independence. The LP versions are definitely sonically superior. Previously unreleased “God Bless America” is a real gem and the best of the bonus tracks. (It’s not the traditional song and its intro is actually lifted from “My Country Tis of Thee”). The live stuff sounds quite good, especially considering how old it is. The 13 song show was recorded at Berkeley Square at the end of 1981. There’s lots of anti-Reagan talk and six songs not included as studio versions. It’s amusing to hear the polite clapping at the end of each song. We tend to assume that these early punk shows were chaotic and drew big crowds, but in reality they were usually pretty small (intimate?).

The DVD is a recording of Toxic Reasons 20th anniversary reunion show in Dayton, Ohio, and it does seem fairly chaotic. The video looks like it was shot by a friend with a camcorder. It has no production value and sounds pretty awful. It’s worth watching once, but doesn’t really merit repeat viewings. On the plus side, it’s basically a free add on. Essential Independence comes packaged in a DVD box. This makes it a little awkward to stack with you CD’s or records, but allows them to include a nice big booklet. There are photos, lyrics, a brief history and remembrances by all four members. The original black and white cover art has been replaced by something much more colorful and cartoonish. (It makes me wonder if they ever had the rights to the original photo.) It does feature their recognizable flag logo, which combines the flags of Britain, the US and Canada (the nationalities of the members at the time). Beer City Records has done a nice job of presenting a criminally underrated band to a modern audience. Toxic Reasons’ Essential Independence is a must have record for fans 80’s Midwestern and American hardcore.