Various Artists

The Return of the Read Menace

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Even though many people choose to ignore it, a radical underground press still exists in the late '90s, right alongside radical underground bands. This may come to a shock to the average listener that stumbles across Honest Don's Return of the Read Menace, a various-artists charity album designed to raise funds for the underground publisher AK Press. Of course, it's hard to imagine a clueless listener stumbling across Return of the Read Menace without having a vague notion of the punk and leftist underground, but even indie-rockers and punkers tend to ignore this segment of the underground rock world. The record, in turn, reminds those listeners that political punk and anti-folk still can be quite powerful. What's especially surprising about Return is the musical variety -- there are a few generic hardcore punk cuts, but there's plenty of impassioned Clash-styled shout-alongs and Billy Bragg-fashioned singer-songwriters, plus a bunch of stuff that falls between the two extremes. It's varied, bracing and intelligent, even if some of the artists rely on platitudes instead of logic. Nevertheless, Return of the Read Menace hits hard -- hard enough to make skeptics of contemporary punk (those that believe it's devoid of style and message) reconsider their position.

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