Those who remember that time period when all those Southern California punk bands who broke through in the early nineties got huge (like the Offspring, Green Day, NOFX and Rancid) remember what a big deal it was when Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards released their first album in 2001. Granted, they were not the first offshoot group to be spawned by any of the big SoCal bands (Me First and the Gimme Gimmes released their first album in 1997 and Pinhead Gunpowder released one the same year) but they were definitely the first offshoot group which (1) sounded a whole lot different from its more headlining counterpart and (2) weren’t a comedy act or puff project.
That was actually the first thing which really got people excited about the Bastards: while Rancid was intrinsically poppy in construct with their flecks of ska and more than a few hummable melodies, the Bastards came on like a street punk armada through and through. Where Rancid featured some fine production frills (Jim Carroll appeared in a song on And Out Come The Wolves, and the production budget was even higher on Life Won’t Wait as Rancid racked up some frequent flyer miles travelling to studios in no less than four American cities and one in Jamaica), Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards had nothing but spikes affixed to every cuff. Where Rancid could be comparatively dainty, planting real pop hooks into their sound, Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards were lean, mean and ready to fight on a moment’s notice – it was hard.
That difference proved to be the thing which catapulted the band to the top with listeners; with only four of the album’s thirteen songs clocking in at over three minutes, the fact that the Bastards’ debut was crunchy, loud and fast as fuck is undeniable – but equally undeniable were the gaffe-sized hooks recessed into each one too, and that’s why they still hold up so well on Pirates Press’ vinyl reissue of the album.
As soon as “Dead American” opens the A-side of this album (after clearing the thirteen-second intro), listeners will be thrown unceremoniously into the deep end of the punk rock pool and left to sink or swim of their own accord. Here, Frederiksen is already running hard and fast with his hair on fire, and is already howling on the mic too; this is not the kind of song that sets a scene, it makes one. It gets pulses racing and then sprints off and leaves listeners choking on dust and rushing to catch up.
After “Dead American” sets the stage for the album, Frederiksen and the Bastards check in with different memories from the singer’s youth (“Six Foot Five” talks about growing up hard on the streets of Southern California, “Army Of Zombies” characterizes humans on the street as the undead from which the singer and his friends had to overcome and “Campbell, CA” is a love letter to the singer’s hometown) as well as a choice cover of Billy Bragg’s “To Have and To Have Not,” amped up to match the tone and tenor of the rest of the side.
As all of that blazes through, it’s understandable how listeners would have no difficulty being swept away by what they’re hearing; true, the sound is rough, tumble and unrelenting, but there’s also an understated romance about these songs which is impossible to deny. “Wine ad Roses” closes the side and perfectly typifies the feeling that the side is shooting for, as a whole.
…And, as soon as listeners have finished with the A-side, they’ll find that the B- continues exactly where its counterpart left off. “Anti-Social” opens the side and doesn’t give listeners any notice before Frederiksen and his band begin battering them, and no quarter is offered up thereafter either. “Ten Plagues of Egypt,” “Leavin’ Here” and “Subterranean” all relentlessly keep that tone and tenor up, to the point where the side is actually in danger of becoming a blur; the speed and power here are so potent that there’s no question listeners really will be swept away with it.
It’s only when “Skinx” pauses for a minute and strips the mix down to just Frederiksen and his guitar at the beginning of the song that listeners get a chance to catch their breath and gain some perspective on what the band has already covered on this side of the album. The band has already rifled through memories of Frederiksen’s early life, but “Skunx” is where the singer literally says, “You’ll never take the gang out of me” defiantly and also says (without directly saying it) that this is who he is; no punches pulled, no feelings spared. That candor is dazzling and it would be near-impossible for any listener to not be affected by it. There is one song left on the side before it closes (“Vietnam”), but the peak and pinnacle of the side are truly achieved with “Skunx.”
Standing back from this new vinyl reissue, it’s impossible to say anything other than Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards has aged incredibly well. Even now, sixteen years after its original release, the album radiates energy as brightly as the new 12”X12” foil poster included with the reissue. What’s a synonym for “bright energy radiation?” Oh right – “brilliant.” That adjective suits this reissue better than one can imagine.
(Hellcat/Pirates Press Records)
Pirates Press’ reissue of Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards’ self-titled debut album is out now. Buy it here, directly from Pirates Press: www.piratespressrecords.com/store/12-inches-c-1_6/new-lars-frederiksen-the-bastards-st-12-lp-p-1099.html.