As Cheech Marin famously put it in Up in Smoke, “you don’t gotta know how to play to be in a punk band, you just gotta know how to be a punk. We can do that!” This is the sort of spirit that has spawned a million punk bands, many of them sonically identical, replete with anti-authority statements, power chords a-plenty and a well thought out “punk” image. Most of these bands never get anywhere but their parents’ garage. But some, like The Explosion, go so far as to ink a major label deal, major distribution, possibly a video or two and, with any luck, shitloads of money.
This is no indictment of The Explosion, of course. Their brand of punk rock, although in no way groundbreaking or life-changing, is enjoyable and fun and no less worthy of a paycheck with Richard Branson’s signature on it than Janet Jackson. But it just seems funny that they’d get singled out above many of the other bands who have a similar sound, look and attitude.
Black Tape, the group’s major label debut, picks up where their first full-length, released on Jade Tree, left off. It’s a bit more polished and buffed with big budget studio sheen. But the punk rock spirit is still there: snotty lyrics, lots o’ distortion and, of course, that recognizable punk rock look. One thing that may set the band apart from some of their contemporaries is their ferocity. New Found Glory and Yellowcard are as watered down as punk gets. But The Explosion are far more of a rock band with less of the inherent emo hang-ups that weigh pop-punk down. However, The Explosion are also a very melodic band. “We All Fall Down,” “Atrocity” and “Hollywood Sign” are some of the best mainstream punk songs to be put on wax in a long time. That may sound like a back-handed compliment, but The Explosion should really be commended for their songwriting, which sacrifices none of the rough edges. Yet, there are some missteps, like “Heavyweight,” which I can’t help but think sounds like “Janie’s Got a Gun.” Maybe it’s just me.
Black Tape isn’t bad at all, if I do say so myself. It’s miles above the pop-punk that infests mainstream radio, though the band still has a ways to go before they achieve the intensity and badass-ness of contemporaries like The Bronx and The Hot Snakes. The Explosion have the potential to make a really great punk rock record. It’s just a shame about all the other thousands of punk rock groups that labels never took a chance on.
The Bronx – The Bronx
Rancid – And Out Come the Wolves
KillRadio – Raised on Whipped Cream
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.