Anyone who listened to alternative rock stations in the '90s and early 2000s was well aware of the fact that punk-influenced rockers had long since become mainstream. Emo/punk-pop outfits like Blink-182 and Fenix TX were in heavy rotation, and everyone from Korn to Pearl Jam to No Doubt had some type of punk influence. However, alterna-rock radio wasn't as enthusiastic about bands that favored an old-school punk sound (as in late '70s and early '80s). That old-school outlook pervades What's It All About?, which was recorded in 2001 but often sounds like it could have been recorded 20 years earlier. This split CD focuses on two driving but melodic punk-pop bands with Southern California addresses: Cell Block 5 and the White Trash Debutantes (who started out in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles). Both bands are mindful of classic late-'70s/early-'80s punk, and both bands know how to combine punk's primal aggression with pop instincts and a strong sense of melody. The Debutantes are the older of the two bands -- Ginger Coyote formed the Debutantes' original lineup in 1989, whereas Cell Block 5 didn't come along until 1999. And the Debutantes are clearly the more humorous of the two bands; they bring a wild, goofy sense of fun to infectious gems like "Food Fight" and "Disobedience." Bondage and S&M are an ongoing source of amusement to lead singer Coyote, who provides some kinky humor on "Whipping Boy" and "Crack of the Whip." Over the years, the Debutantes' work has been erratic, but What's It All About contains some of their stronger writing. And the CD (which was produced by Rob Trisler and L.A.-based publicist Curtis Smith) also paints an attractive picture of Cell Block 5.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson