Descendents - Cool To Be You (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Cool To Be You (2004)

Fat Wreck Chords

A lot of people last year spoke of how it was a great year for music, and while I enjoyed Transatlanticism and Give Up as much as the next music geek, I did find myself wondering where all the actual punk was. Maybe it was a great year for indie rock and hardcore, but despite strong showings from The Lawrence Arms, Against Me! and others, it felt less like a punk rock year.

2004 is shaping up to be the year that the punk comes roaring back. In the next few months, we can expect records from Bad Religion, Social Distortion, and Green Day. But before that, the long awaited return of a personal favourite of mine: the Descendents.

There are few bands that really get to me like the Descendents; while many of their peers considered loftier matters like politics and rebellion, few of them were as consistently fun as the Descendents. Sure, songs about love and bitterness, coffee and being a nerd aren't high brow enough to impress the folks at Punk Planet and Pitchfork but when you're a teenager, as much as you'd like to pretend that you're concerned with new economic paradigms, CIA-sponsored coups and the political unfairness of the estate tax, somehow songs about girls, food and doing dumb things with your friends seemed more immediate.

Sure, we can speak at length about the kind of things that end up in bios, Bill Stevenson played in Black Flag, and All, for example. We can talk at length about how Milo is has a PhD in biochemistry now and is married with kids. But really, how much does that matter? This is a Descendents record, and necessarily eschews the need for lengthy exposition and clever concept reviews.

Their first release since 1996s Everything Sucks on Epitaph, Cool To Be You has it's mature side, handling topics like the loss of an estranged relative (the heartfelt "One More Day"), and a lyrically fantastic track about American pride and shame (‘Merican). Despite that, they haven't lost the childish, self-depreciating streak that is almost impossible to find anything but endearing and sympathetic. "Mass Nerder" talks about being ostracized in high school, while "Dog and Pony Show" concerns itself with singles bars and "Blast Off!" represents an eloquent ode to flatulence. As always, the song writing seems perfectly democratic, with each member contributing excellent tracks.

Musically, the band hasn't changed drastically since 1982's Milo Goes to College;1 they're still focused on somewhat unorthodox melodies, anchored by an incredibly tight rhythm section and some guitar pyrotechnics. The band is clearly tighter and more comfortable with strong melodies, but with the exception of the omission of sub-30 second goof offs like "Coffee Mug" and "Weiner schnitzel", there is little that will alienate old fans. The production, by way of Stevenson (who has been producing one excellent sounding record after another at his Blasting Room studio) is the best yet, with every instrument clear and not one dominating. The common description of "pop-hardcore" is still undisputed.

Is this the best Descendents record yet? Perhaps not... Everything Sucks is definitely the most accessible, Milo Goes to College their most defining moment, but the truth is the Descendents don't need to change the world of music with Cool to Be You. They already did in 1981. What they have produced is an outstanding melodic record; a welcome maturity that likely coincides with the maturity of their audience, and just solid, memorable songs.