T.S.O.L. - Divided We Stand (Cover Artwork)


Divided We Stand (2003)


Perhaps one of the very few certainties of a punk band is an inclination to change members. Great groups such as the Damned, Black Flag, the Adolescents, Suicidal Tendencies, the Descendents, and the Misfits have each seen their fair number of personnel moves. Nevertheless, new line-ups often fail to re-capture the previous accolades and magic of the earlier incarnations. So perhaps what makes the "original" TSOL reunion (save Todd Barnes, RIP) so gratifying is that 3/4 of their original lineup has returned to play live shows with the same reckless abandon as they did in their twenties and churn out a new album, Divided We Stand. But, TSOL have certainly not released a record that is 3/4 of the quality of their previous, storied material. As a matter of fact, it just might be the best LP of their lengthy careers.

That being said, "Sedatives" is the best "track one" that TSOL have recorded since "Superficial Love", maybe even better. It blows away "Soft Focus," "Man And Machine" and "California Uber Alles"...I mean, "Sounds Of Laughter." Although Jack Lloyd Jones doesn't use any incredibly adept vernacular like Greg Graffin of Bad Religion, he opts to rhyme together a lot of words that end in "ion" as his demented vocals and classic sneer accentuate the frantic tempo. Unfortunately, "Serious" is a bit of a let-down after the aforementioned number but still amazing. It's a pretty clear, literal attack on people's preconceptions of the "punk" concept and rekindles the theme of "World War III" via a subtle attack on Bush with the line: "Vote what you want./But the monster is replaced."

The highly underrated and talented Mike Roche provides a wicked bass intro to one of the album's many highlights, "Fuck You Tough Guy." Initially, "Fuck You Tough Guy" seems like a juvenile narrative about high school (what would you expect from a band that spends a lot of time around Adolescents?). But, the band makes an incredible segue from the 1:35-2:00 minute mark seem so simple it makes their previous transition between "Abolish Government" and "Silent Majority" seem poor and sloppy. This segue also makes the song seem like an allegory that equates the "bullying" of "losers" to the same type of harassment that third party candidates receive in an attempt to make their views concur with those of the flawed two-party system of de-mock-racy, lyrics that become even more relevant in light of Mr. Lloyd Jones' decision to run for Governor of California. Then again, Jack could just be messing with us.

After such a speedy start, the next trio of tracks- "See You Tomorrow," "American," and "Loaded" - slow down the pace as the keyboards make their first prominent appearance. "American" has a guitar tone similar to that of "Thoughts Of Yesterday" (particularly at the 1:48 mark) and seems to deal with the confining fear of an imminent war whereas "Loaded" has a (gasp!) acoustic intro. "Loaded" may very well be one of the more vague songs from the TSOL catalogue. It either seems to be a tribute to late drummer, Todd Barnes, or the Christine who didn't care from Disappear's "Renounce." Either way, it's nice to know that TSOL are incorporating new elements (acoustic guitar) into their music more than two decades after their initial inception.

"Sex Not Violence" is significantly faster than the three tracks that precede it and features an incredibly catchy chorus as the song is later accentuated by a multi-vocal "seem so helpless" verse that conjures warm memories of the "Don't go" mantra of "World War III." Furthermore, "Sex Not Violence" sets the tone and tempo for the rest of the record seeing how both "Again" and "Electric" retain a relatively rapid pace. "Again" displays some nice verses that are somewhat reminiscent of "Silent Scream." "Electric" simply proves that TSOL can still play as fast as they did in their twenties and also displays that Jack, while now happily married with a daughter, can be one demented fellow.

After three fairly literal, fast tracks, "Undressed" returns the listener to the realm of nebulous. If anyone can decipher what the song details, you're a better man (or woman) than me. What I do know is that the track features a cool drum/bass combo and cool vocals with a nice use of alliteration ("smile so sincere").

"Being In Love" is rather slow and literal sounding like a crossbreed of the Hives' "Hate To Say I Told You So" and the Damned's "New Rose." But the line "Don't wanna ever be human!" is rather intriguing though the vocals mostly seem influenced by the Sex Pistols, a band that shared the stage with both TSOL and the Damned at last year's Inland Invasion show.

Speaking of, TSOL's open admiration for the "new" Damned is displayed on "Happy" which explores a similar theme as a certain Damned classic (try to guess which one). It very well may be Jack's best vocal performance on the entire album though the tune suffers due to the fact that an amazing interlude (1:15-1:32) is followed by a remarkably predictable rhythmic build-up and guitar solo. But on the plus side, the guitar solo is pretty badass and proves Ron Emory can shred with just about any punk guitarist, aside from Rikk Agnew.

After a dozen new songs, TSOL wrap up their second album in as many years with "Shine," a song that was written in 1983. Though I, like many others, was disappointed to learn that "Darker My Love" didn't make the album's final cut, "Shine" makes me understand the band's decision. The album's uplifting conclusion includes lines such as "I kept myself alive"/ "I positively love the way you shine!" accompanied by an incredible bass-line and added keyboards which serve as a nice touch. Whether the song is an ode to an actual lover (thus keeping with the more "gothic" side of TSOL) or a declaration of love for the United States (thus keeping with the "patriotism" theme of the group) is unclear but certainly good fodder for a debate. Unfortunately, the album ends rather abruptly but leaves the listener with a better perspective on life than "Dance With Me," "Waiting For You," or "Disappear." Though I find each of those three tracks to be classic, I also find it amazing that TSOL, a band known for their dark, gothic ballads or political anthems, were able to write a positive song and not sound like total pansies.

So while it's nice to hear Jack, Ron, and Mike jamming together again, Divided We Stand's biggest disappointment is its brevity. Oddly enough, it also happens to be the longest LP TSOL have ever released beating out Beneath The Shadows by a little less than two minutes. But throughout the span of a half hour or so, TSOL prove that they refuse to adhere to the conventional confines of punk by constantly changing their sound. Jack Lloyd Jones boasts about this very fact on the included interview that comes along as an extra feature on the CD stating that TSOL were punk in the truest sense since they never made the same record twice. It's nice to know that a group of six foot tall chaps from Huntington Beach who each donned white face paint in unity did not propagate their homogenous appearance into their music, and managed to retain their original line-up (or at least, 3/4 of it). For once again, there are very few certainties in punk, but one things remains certain: that TSOL always seem to change today.