Common Rider - Last Wave Rockers [Reissue] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Common Rider

Last Wave Rockers [Reissue] (2024)

Asian Man Records

Yet again, time has proven Jesse Michaels correct. When Common Rider debuted in 1999, it had felt like an eon since the end of Operation Ivy. In reality, it was “only” a ten year span- one even tempered by the quiet release of Michaels’ Big rig project- but in that time, punk and ska had gone from being underground and basically forgotten in the mainstream since, say 1980, to being THE popular media. Punk and “punk” bands were on prime time Tv, MTV, the radio, and were featured in movie soundtracks. (Hilarious that the most excellent Classics of Love, one of two of Michaels’ current bands, has been running for about 16 years, yet it still feels like a shorter time frame than the Op Ivy to CR span…)

So, when Common rider released the debut record, a full-on album, many people were expecting either operation Ivy 2 or a band that fit right in with the contemporary third wave ska giants. That isn’t what Last Wave Rockers was at all.

Instead, Common Rider had been informed by Michaels’ retreat from music. Apparently he lived in Florida for a while, and maybe he practiced some sort of Zen Buddhism or something like that, and also he writhed in self-destructive behaviors during the self-imposed exile. So, the returned Michaels was certainly more mature and apparently more in tune with the universe. Whereas the Michaels in Op ivy was a raging youth penning precocious songs commenting on the destructive influence of modern governments, systems, and society pressures, that informed, but youthful rage had been replaced by someone searching for something higher.

On “signal, Signal,” Michaels contemplates a character that is searching for completeness, who only releases that such a prize is found within. The track itself calls back to opening “Classics of Love,” which salutes the transcendent power of music. There are lots of songs about how “fun” music is, but Michaels, with his looping poetry, is one of the few to make the statement seem important and earnest, instead of pandering- incidentally, as Michaels name checks the Clash and A Tribe Called Quest, I am reminded of Stevie Wonder’s similar celebration on “Sir Duke.” The comparison is as bold as it is apt and apropos.

Interestingly though, for the first time, we get Jesse Michaels love songs. “Angels at Play” is set in the iconic “boy love is great mold.” A few other songs are lovey-dovey, too and the appear to speak volume- the weird part is, that as per the re-release liner notes, that actual connection was alien to Michaels at the time and these love tunes were him approximating what such feelings actually feel like. Not to heap too much praise on Michaels (he deserves it, but appears equally embarrassed by it), we see this paradox from other song masters like Brian Wilson, Daniel Johnston, and even the heavy weight champ Nick Blinko. How interesting is it that iconic love songs are often written by people who are alien to “normal relationships.”

Of course, at the time, people were a little freaked out. This is not what they thought they were going to get. This is exemplified by the various punk-ish and reggae-ish styles across the album. “Classics of Love” and “conscious Burning” had reggae-type groves- not ska. Mass Giorgini lays down a large warm bass wile drummer Dan Lumley dropped in slightly lagging drums. “Dixie Roadrash”had a church organ and jingle-jangle riff with accompanied female vocals.

All of this together made it hard to nail Common Rider into a box. Whereas Operation Iby was the this-was-my-teenage-years for a lot of people, Common Rider, with its cosmic gaze and wider sound, didn’t represent any one specific thing to a group of people. Rather, it was a more multifaceted released that represented different things to different people. To some, it was an experiment at galactic thought. To others, it was a reggae rumbler. To others, it was just nice to have some “happy songs” crafted by punk’s poet laureate: “We’ll be together, rockers to the very last wave!” So, in a way, while the reaction to Common Rider was somewhat muted at the time of release, this record may be the record that proved Michaels; greatness. That is, he was just some young guy writing about things from the eyes of a teen at war with the world, he was someone that contemplated the gears of the universe itself… all while expressing frustration, anger, and confusion with himself and his surroundings. While Michaels’ lyrics and lyrical bend can seem untouchable- there is no way that 99.999% of artist can write with such craft, sometime simple, sometimes knotty- it’s a language that speaks to us all, even though Michaels himself routine expresses alienation from the human condition.

The Asian Man Record’s re-issue of this record is impeccable. The cover art is slightly updated in an amusing color swap. The sound is stellar and the liner notes include essays from the bandmembers giving a great deal of insight into the recording and their own psyches. This record is essential.