(America's) Dirty Little Secret

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"If you're a bigot or a punk phony, you will hate this album." So proclaims the sticker emblazoned across the front of this thoroughly self-righteous but ultimately rewarding disc. That sentiment betrays the band's unfortunate tendencies toward both stridency and muddleheadedness -- it's not at all clear that the musical tastes of bigots and phonies are so easily predictable, nor would a bunch of neo-Nazis would find anything at all to object to in the album's lead track, which is called "We Need an Anthem" and features the chorus "Got our backs against the wall/Got our backs against the wall." The "dirty little secret" of the album title is racism, which is certainly dirty, but is certainly not one of America's "secrets." And on "Back with a Bang," it's impossible to tell whether the band is glorifying or condemning the song's Unabomber-ish protagonist. The lyrical problems, however, are compensated for by the band's musicianship, which is startlingly strong; no song on the album is less than listenable, and several are good enough to merit repeated playings. Most of them refer back to the harsh melodicism of the Clash, as do the band's occasional forays into ska and punky reggae. "Under the Gun," which sports an uncharacteristically tight lyric, is a bracing hardcore assault with roots in early-'80s L.A. Ignore most of the lyric sheet, and you'll find yourself listening to this album over and over.

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