The Adolescents’ self-titled, debut album turns 40 today.
Dropping in the same year as a string of Dischord releases and Black Flag’s Damaged, the Adolescents’ Blue Album (as it’s also known) isn’t as cacophonous as any of those—nor is it as emotionally dark as Agent Orange’s Living in Darkness. None of the 13 songs are blisteringly fast, either. What’s on offer is graze-toned, guitar-driven (hardcore) punk, covering themes of alienation, scenesters, and destruction.
“Friends calls me ‘enemy’ ‘cos they’re a fucking joke,” sings Tony Cadena on “Who is Who”; “You didn’t create our scene,” he tells an “L.A. Girl.” “Rip It Up,” meanwhile, tackles violence in the L.A. punk scene, describing it as being “Like Clockwork Orange—a bit of 20-on-1.” The only time the album properly slows down is in the 11th track, “Democracy.” The song has an almost sluggish quality, as if dissatisfaction has dragged the narrator into both commenting on politics and the sluggishness itself and, when indeed they do comment, their conclusion is scathing: “Now I know better / Now I can see / That I don’t wanna be in democracy.”
It’s not all about the lyrics, of course; Cadena delivers them in a sneering, gnashing tone, with malice and exasperation. Agent Orange and Adolescents founder Steve Soto plays basslines which complement the music well and is rightly given space to shine at times. The drumming of Casey Royer—who would go on to found D.I.—has a mechanically-persistent (though never overbearing) quality, similar to that of Crimpshrine’s Aaron Cometbus.
The guitar work is arguably the most notable musical element: Agnew brothers Rikk and Frank provide rhythm and lead, respectively, and the leads are fiery, with licks and solos all over the album. In “Self Destruct,” which tells of entropy and self-harm, the song crescendos with a solo which could well be interpreted as symbolism—much like in the Dead Kennedys’ “Chemical Warfare”—in this case of said self-destruction.
“No Way” is bookended by slick solos, whilst the following track, “Amoeba”—perhaps the most famous song, which went on to feature in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 twenty years later—also has another two, capped off with a lick at its closure.
What can’t escape mention is the sixth song, “Kids of the Black Hole.” Clocking in at five minutes and 27 seconds, it is a haunting, punk rock epic telling of life at the Black Hole, an apartment owned by Social Distortion’s Mike Ness, which was a hang-out “house of destruction” where kids binged on “reckless fun” and history was “recorded in the clutter on the floor.”
Written by Rikk Agnew, the song paints such vivid pictures that one can pretty must place themselves inside this “trashed” apartment of chaos. Indeed, one can’t help but think of the squat in Penelope Spheeris’ Suburbia, or the parties-of-excess presented in Larry Clark‘s Kids. The guitars are never discordant, but their repetitious ringing causes them to come across as alarms signalling danger and, as such, when a solo breaks out, it could almost be an outpouring of anguish. The track is a masterful piece of songwriting and the album is worth hearing for this alone.
Indeed, the Adolescents’ self-titled debut is not an average, hardcore-punk album. The songs are layered, memorable and chock full of fantastic guitar work. It may not be as hard or as dark as other records in the genre, but it’s an accomplished counterweight which deserves a place in any punk collection.