Culled from Tiger Army's back catalog of unreleased songs and early demo outtakes (predating the band's affiliation with Hellcat Records), The Early Years is a reissue aimed at satisfying fans of the band seeking to complete their collections, rather than aimed at attracting new fans to the fold. The songs contained on Early Years are all serviceable rockabilly/punkabilly numbers, but they lack any real power or direction and are pretty forgettable as a result. Tiger Army's anthemic "Jungle Cat" is full of lines like, "Don't step on my tiger tail/I'll rip your guts out" and rallying cries of "let's prowl," and, not surprisingly, it comes across as being more than a little cheesy. The band often bears more than just a passing resemblance to the Stray Cats (musically), but the difference between the two groups is that the Stray Cats were the whole package. Sure, the Cats had their own silly kitty anthem ("Stray Cat Strut"), but Brian Setzer and the boys had the attitude and the chops to back it up. "American Nightmare" finds the band giving that Misfits track the rockabilly treatment, while "F.T.W." (which stands for "f*ck the world," yawn) has Tiger Army posturing as tough-as-nails street punks rather than swaggering rockabilly hepsters. With ham-fisted lyrics like, "Everyday this sh*t brings me down/Every night I wanna go out and kill," "F.T.W." is the oldest song on Early Years, dating back to 1996. Perhaps Tiger Army's schtick would be a little easier to swallow if they would settle on what it is they're trying to accomplish -- that is to say, they need to decide whether they are the goofy greasers of "Jungle Cat" or the angry, juvenile punks of "F.T.W.," because the two sides of the band's personality are definitely at odds with one another. As a rarities compilation, the unevenness of this record is quite understandable, and it serves as a testament to how much the band has improved over the years, rather than how good it was when it was just starting out. A bit like the "before" photo of a makeover.
AllMusic Review by Karen E. Graves