Various Artists

Stage Diving to the Oldies

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"Where were you when it MATTERED?" queries the cover of this album in a snotty, self-righteous tone that perfectly typifies the attitude of punks across the country back in the early '80s, when punk rock tended to be political, anarchistic and relevant. Now that the term "punk" is itself a meaningless anachronism, this collection of ten- to 15-year-old tracks counts as a genuine oldies album, and the roster is a who's-who of the West Coast scene circa 1982: Shattered Faith, Youth Brigade, TSOL, Agent Orange, the Circle Jerks, and more. This album is a made-to-order nostalgia ride and a required-listening textbook on punk rock's American high-water mark. The album opens with "Out of Vogue" by the Middle Class, a pitch-perfect example of self-righteous hardcore in the "We're so cool we're uncool" vein. Agent Orange's "Tearing Me Apart" shows the shape of a more sophisticated alt-rock to come, while TSOL's "Abolish Government" contains all of the classic themes of L.A. anarchic hardcore without any of the humor brought to the same subject matter by such bands as the Vandals, whose "Mohawk Town" is one of the few low points on this album (their classic "Anarchy Burger (Hold the Government)" would have been a much better choice). When it comes right down to it, there's not a single original sentiment or chord sequence to be found here, but then, you can say pretty much the same thing about Gilbert & Sullivan -- the joy is in the perfect execution of a pleasing cliché, and that's exactly what you've got here.

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