Call me a nihilist, but I think the most impactful time in punk history was the ‘80s. Think about it. The well-intended Hippie movement, with all its mantras of utopian free love and antinuclear peace, had come to a screeching halt with the publicization of Charles Manson’s granola-munching murder cult. In it’s place, the Cold War cast a sourceless shadow of impending doom on the collective psyche of already disenchanted American youngsters. Meanwhile, the same college kids who smoked weed and protested ‘Nam were starting to work on Wall Street and driving expensive cars…the ones who didn’t become lifeless burnouts and toe-tagged statistics anyway. So what do you do when the curtain behind Utopia is drawn back by the hands of time and circumstance, revealing something empty and meaningless on the other side? What do you do when the mantra “Be happy” fails?
You adopt a new mantra.
And for many skate rats and antisocial losers, that mantra was “Fuck it!”
Thus the era commonly known as “old school punk rock” burst into United States culture like a school bus of ADHD kids on a field trip to the Museum of Boring Priceless Artifacts. When done right, it was obnoxious, loud, unrefined, and made you want to dance so wildly that your writhing breaks everything within a reasonable distance. It’s no wonder that even after 40-plus years the genre still frightens the elderly all the while speaking to both the young and young at heart. No matter what era, no matter what form or subgenre it takes, the sound and lyrics chanel something joyously primal in its listeners.
This is where Guttermouth comes into play.
Truth be told, I can’t think of a band that exemplifies the meaning of “punk” so purely as Guttermouth does. At least not one which has seen their level of mainstream success. On the one hand they’ve appeared in commercial mediums, from contributing music to the Tony Hawk video game franchise to their performances at the Vans Warped Tour. On the other, they’ve always gone out of their way to dismantle and callout the vain commercialism of these same media, such as their antics at said Warped Tour which got them removed from the roster.
This same immaturity shines in the band’s latest EP Got It Made. It’s been 10 years since the band has released any new material. Yet the work feels like something straight out of the ‘80s California scene that birthed them. From the fuzz-filled giddiness conveyed by the guitar melodies to the thunderous basslines and slam-bang percussion to the intentionally dumb yet exuberant lyrics, the album is surely comparable to acts such as OFF. Yet whereas those groups express pubescent frustration and political discontent in an accessible way, the sounds emanating from Guttermouth’s latest release are sarcastic bliss. The recording dares to laugh in the face of human insanity, all the while smartly commenting on just how insane it is.
In expected Guttermouth fashion, the album also seems to be thumbing its nose at the idea of the punk-rock celebrity. Despite the band’s controversies and far less than celebrity status, their title track “I’ve Got it Made” points to singer/songwriter Mark Adkins’ more debaucherous tendencies while criticizing the eat-work-retire-die American dream. However it’s chant of “I’ve got it made in the shade, I’ve got it made” could also be seen as a careful satire of the rise in commercial punkdom seen particularly in the early 2000s and extending even to now. Maybe I’m connecting dots that aren’t there, but I find it curious that this little gem is being released at almost the same time as the reformed Blink 182’s far more publicized California. And as much as I am a Blink fan, the two releases certainly compare as much as they contrast.
Regardless of intent, the lyrical goofiness of the EP compliments the musical madness perfectly as it scoffs at the emptiness of values ranging from romantic relationships and nuclear families (“Old Man” and “The Point”) to even mainstream punk culture itself (“A Punk Rock Tale of Woe”). Something wrong can be found with any subject, and all is fair game for mockery, as it always has been for Guttermouth. And as much as I often argue that change is necessary for survival, sometimes it can be comforting to find some things left unchanged.
Lastly, the band has put the entire album on Youtube for free streaming, thus proving if punk is dead, they don’t know yet. And more power to them for it!
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