Operation Ivy - Unity: The Complete Collection (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Operation Ivy

Unity: The Complete Collection (1996)

Berkeley Archive

It was one of those life-changing conversations in music nerdery: My best friend, his mid-30s stepdad Matt, his mom and me all sitting around the living room of a rural Iowa dwelling listening to original pressings of Beatles records. "You guys are so lucky," Matt said. "It's so cool there are Beatles songs that you still get to discover -- I would give anything to be able to go back and listen to a Beatles song for the first time." That sentiment has resonated with me ever since -- that with certain bands there can be a level of devotion that nears infallibility, where it doesn't matter so much that the band is putting forth flawless music, but that the perception of the band as such warrants an attitude where their mere offerings are a gift. Even so much as a whisper of unheard or unreleased music by the band is like a precious stone or a Holy Grail depending on its availability. Somewhere in between is Operation Ivy's Unity: The Complete Collection.

Having been under the impression that Energy / Hectic / Turn It Around was a definitive discography for longer than I'd care to admit, I grabbed myself a copy of Seedy as soon as I found out about it a few years ago. Again having thought I'd completed the anthology, I was once again taken aback upon stumbling across Unity at Minneapolis' Extreme Noise Records a few months ago. It's the coolest thing I've bought all year.

You see, I've always considered Operation Ivy to be somewhat of the gold standard of punk rock. They encapsulate everything that's right about the genre and nothing that's wrong. They have the intelligence of Bad Religion and Propagandhi without the redundancy of themes or air of condescendence, the energetic punk and ska combination of Reel Big Fish and Less than Jake without getting cliché or tiresome, and the ethic and legacy of bands like the Clash while operating on a shoestring budget and independent label. They may have just been four kids screwing around, but to me they're the epitome of what punk is and what punk should be.

All sentiment aside -- what does the music on Unity actually sound like? Well, the first ten songs or so are essentially what's made up of Seedy, but cleaned up a bit and certainly mastered louder. What follows is an assortment of live tracks, Ramones covers and extended jams. A young Matt Freeman shows his blossoming bass skills on the slap-happy "My Life" halfway through, and the band does a killer rendition of Isocracy's "Rodeo" with dashes of ska for good measure. The cuts from the Ramones 12" covers EP include greats like "I Wanna Be Sedated" and 44 seconds of a ska version of "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," though "Sheena" is replaced with someone named "Marcia." "Steppin' Out" and "Hedgecore (The Rock Opera)" both clock in at over six minutes of upstrokes and toasting. The real treat is hearing the original version of "Unity," and realizing how far the band came in the songwriting process from the skeleton on this compilation to the anthem on Energy. In full, the disc collects the Plea for Peace 7", 69 Newport 7", Lint: The King of Ska 7", Live at Gilman 7", Ramones EP 12", and East Bay EP 7". Chock full of annotations by the band and photos of the original EPs, it's the next best thing to having the individual records.

While this collection may not be the best music Operation Ivy ever recorded, it's music by one of the best bands to ever represent punk rock. And even though it's probably the last studio Operation Ivy material I'll get to hear for the first time, luckily its members are still doing great things with music in an era so detached from that of Operation Ivy. Thank God.