Descendents - All (Cover Artwork)


All (1987)


1987 was a pivotal year for Descendents, as the year before they had released “Enjoy” and then went through some line-up changes, with Karl Alvarez and Stephen Egerton on bass and guitar respectively joining Milo Aukerman and Bill Stevenson. Although not the original, this would become the Descendents’ defining and most familiar line-up.

As the title suggests, the concept of ALL (which would later be expanded upon in ALL the band) is at the forefront of their fourth full-length album. Bill Stevenson and the band’s unofficial fifth member Pat McCuistion are credited with coming up with the concept during a caffeine-fueled fishing trip and Milo Aukerman has described it as “doing the utmost and achieving the utmost”.

Of course, this being a group of young people in a punk rock band during the 1980s, this semi-serious concept is heavy on the humor, which make it a lot more enjoyable, relatable and less catechetic way of celebrating your drive in life. Drawing a more contemporary comparison, consider how Dudeism from the “Big Lebowski” embodies, mashes up and popularizes Taoist and Epicurean concepts, with all the necessary and familiar pop culture references.

The concept of ALL is outlined in “All-O-Gistics” and its commandments range from the expected juvenile stuff (like not doing your laundry or suppressing farts) to the rather more profound and absurdist tenets, such as striving for “greatness” and “not having no idea”. At a time when east coast bands were becoming more serious and immersed in their religious beliefs (the divisive Krishnacore scene explosion was just around the corner), Descendents on the west coast took a far more palpable and lighthearted approach that is still very much relevant and alive almost thirty years on.

Following the trend from previous releases, “All” is a group effort, with all members contributing to the music and lyrics. Lyrically “All” has all the hallmarks of a classic Descendents album, with the perspective being personal throughout: breakups, being misunderstood and acting like a goofy kid are all present, although the approach is at times more mature (for lack of a better word) than on previous efforts. Where things are apparently and undoubtedly more different is in the music.

As with any band that goes through line-up changes, the addition of a new guitarist and bassist had an impact on the overall sound. In what is probably a rather rare occurrence, both Alvarez and Egerton had no problem fitting right in with the rest of the band almost immediately. It was newcomer Alvarez who wrote “Coolidge”, arguably one of the most memorable and defining songs in the band’s history, while Egerton wrote the music for four of the album’s songs and contributed to another two.

Along with the more familiar mid-tempo pop punk for which the Descendents had become known for, their fourth album has a more experimental side, as demonstrated in the aforementioned “All-O-Gistics”, as well as “Van”, “Schizophrenia” and the instrumental album-closer “Uranus”. These songs may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they illustrate how the Descendents strived to achieved ALL, by not being content with simply rehashing the same old tired riffs to the same old jaded crowds. Black Flag had pretty much done the same thing a couple years prior (and arguably to a greater extent), while the impact of the “Revolution Summer” explosion in D.C. was still reverberating.

Sadly though, a few months after the album’s release the Descendents effectively went on a hiatus that lasted about a decade, as Aukerman left to pursue an academic career. The rest of the band were however prepared to carry on (with Dag Nasty’s Dave Smalley on vocals at first) and morphed into ALL, where they fine-tuned and greatly expanded upon the concept of ALL. While a bit rough around a few edges, this record confidently bridges their past and their future.