ALL - Pummel (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Pummel (1995)


Pummel is a bit of an anomaly in the ALL catalog, but it will always hold a special place in my heart. After the crazy commercial success of Green Day and The Offspring in 1994, punk bands were getting signed to major labels left and right. It makes sense that ALL were caught up in the wave. After all, they had an impressive pedigree and were already successful as a DIY band. The ‘90s punk revival got a lot of bands signed, but few of the older ones really caught on. Mainstream success never happened for ALL, and Pummel would end up being the band's only album for Interscope.

With big money behind them, ALL were able to tour extensively behind the album, including two separate visits to Grand Rapids. I saw both of those shows, and the difference between the two was stark. The first one was at a punk club, with punk openers and punk fans. The second was at a big rock club, was sponsored by a local radio station, and included a meet and greet. Hardly anyone at the second show knew who ALL were, so we largely had the meet and greet to ourselves. ALL opened the show, and most people were there to see the cover band that followed. Interscope clearly had no idea how to market the band, which sped up the demise of the relationship. Those were strange, surreal times.

Revisiting Pummel, most of it still holds up extremely well. It was the second album featuring singer Chad Price, who I always thought was a great fit. He had most of the sensitivity of Milo, but also much of the rage of Henry Rollins. The first six songs on Pummel were pretty much untouchable. The straight edge mocking “Self-Righteous” kicked things off and led into the punk love song “Million Bucks”. I didn't think “Million Bucks” was the best song on the record, but it's the one the label saw as the potential big single. “Uncle Critic” took angry aim at the band's naysayers. It was probably mostly directed at those who complained about ALL signing to a major.

Interscope did reel the band in to a certain extent. Stephen Egerton's sometimes weird and unpredictable guitar playing was still there, but in a much more subdued context. It was only allowed to serve the song, rather than run wild. Karl Alvarez's funky, busy basslines were there too, but had a more traditional rock and roll feel. It made for a very listenable album. I'll always think of Pummel as a breakup record, and the next three songs reflected that. “Miranda”, “Not Easy” and “Long Distance” are all standouts. I would argue that “Long Distance” was the best song on the record. It’s definitely the one that still pops into my head most often.

Pummel got more serious than anything ALL had done previously. “Not Easy”, “Stalker”, “This World”, ‘Broken” and “Black Sky” all went to dark places. Price could occasionally seethe with a previously unheard rage. Side two was not quite as strong as side one, but still had some really solid songs. It was definitely the “punk” side of the record. “Gettin’ There” and “Breakin’ Up” still sound great after nearly 25 years. I hadn't listened to Pummel for quite a few years, but it quickly came rushing back. I don't put it on as often as I like, but I sure do enjoy it when I do.

I would be remiss if I didn't address the controversy surrounding Pummel in more recent years. “Hetero” obviously hasn't aged well. I’m not the sensitive type, but even I cringed a couple of times revisiting it. I believe it was an attempt at humor, even if it was inspired by frustration. It just doesn’t work, especially reframed in a modern context. It was a different time. We talked differently. I wouldn’t want to be judged by the way I spoke when I was young, but I can tell you there was no malice behind my words. I don’t think anyone from ALL was trying to be mean spirited or hateful, and I’m sure they regret the whole thing. Am I projecting? Yes. Am I right? Probably.

The other potentially problematic song was “Stalker”. While this was written in the mindset of a deranged character, it’s clearly about violence toward women. Does it encourage or condone such actions? Absolutely not, but it is very intense. Price really sells it, but until I see Bill Stevenson arrested for domestic abuse, I’m going to take it for what it is - fiction. Like “Hetero”, I can let it slide. I am a straight white guy, so take that for what it’s worth. Whether or not you’re willing to do the same is your decision. I’m not going to let an unfortunate song or two sour an otherwise wonderful album. Pummel truly was a wonderful album. It wasn’t perfect, but most of it still holds its own against ALL’s best material.