Swingin' Utters - Streets of San Francisco (Cover Artwork)

Swingin' Utters

Streets of San Francisco (1995)

New Red Archives

In mid 2001 Fat Wreck reissued Streets of San Francisco, which was originally released on New Red Archives. The reissue effectively made the album much, much easier to get. I don't think it is without reason that the people of Fat Wreck opted to do this. Streets of S.F. is one of the best punk albums of all time, and also one of the most underrated.

The first full-length of this amazing band, this album plays like it's straight out of '77. Indeed, over the years, the band has claimed that the sounds of the Clash and Sham 69 heavily inform their music. I think this is a bit misleading, because although the Utters adeptly capture the sounds of yesteryear, this album more than any of their others achieves a sound reminiscent of '77, while still giving an impression of autonomy.

There are a number of things that contribute to this difference that sets this album apart from all the rest. The first is that Darius, the lead guitar player, is a little more daring, and his riffs are a bit more loquacious on this album; though he exhibits remarkable abilities on this album, he's since learned to control his instruments a lot better. But this tinge of riotousness in the melodies is what makes the album so strangely distinct, without the tautness of the Clash. There are a few songs that are trademark Utters: "Beached Sailor" and "Catastrophe" are two good examples.

Another feature of this album is that, unlike some of their subsequent releases, it's pretty thoroughly upbeat, and these melodies wonderfully contrast with Johnny Bonnel's lyrics, which often dwell on alienation and loss. One exception is "Last Chance", a brilliantly sentimental, almost didactic tune lamenting the loss of ideals and hopes that come with age.

Now what sets Streets of S.F. apart from not only any other Utters record, but the majority of punk releases, is its consistency. As much as I hate to say it, it's more rare to come across a consistent album in punk than it is in any other genre. Streets of S.F. is one of the more genuine punk albums, and as an album grants the listener a feeling of closeness that is so rare these days. From the catchy "Storybook Disease" and "Petty Wage" to the roaring "Teenage Genocide" and "Expletive Deleted," Streets of S.F. is a keeper for the casual and hardcore fan alike. And I daresay that in years to come, it will likely be regarded as a cornerstone in the punk rock canon.