venerdì 13 ottobre 2017

The Lillingtons - Stella Sapiente

In 1998 pop punk was becoming stagnant and unexciting. Trapped in its own asexual fantasies of failed romance and teenage frustration and with its lovable-losers-type characters forever doomed to a three-chord prison, it seemed at a dead end.
The heyday of Lookout records was behind and the future seemed uncertain. Of course the golden age had spawned a thriving (and still alive!) underground of zines, small bands and aficionados, but the big names were missing: they simply weren't yielding anything to propel pop punk ahead.
Green Day were starting to look tired and bloated (they hadn't been re-designed and re-engineered yet). The name Screeching Weasel was still being written on an album every now and then, but only because Ben hadn't worked up the courage to go solo yet. The Mr. T Experience had recorded what was their best work ever the year before and would never reach those heights again. The Queers were still trying to re-assess themselves in the wake of Joe King’s new-found sobriety.
The Groovie Ghoulies were quietly keeping it burning, but without the impact these other bands had on the general public.
Storm the streets by the Riverdales was a minor masterpiece and the only breath of fresh air in the room. Unfortunately it was not understood by the fans: their ears were still relegated to the saccharine dream land of cheerful melodies and faux-50's landscapes.

Then DEATH BY TELEVISION happened. It was sudden and profound. It was an album that shook the very foundations of the genre. It was groundbreaking. Sonically, it introduced the minor chord progression into pop punk, something only the Descendents and the Ramones in the 80's had briefly hinted at. Thematically, it reinstated the album as a congruous collection of songs linked by a common thread (as in the Misfits tradition), instead of a mere selection of random tracks that sounded ok.
At first I admit I couldn't quite grasp the greatness of it. It took me a few listens to fully understand its potential. Coming from years of girlfriend-trouble songs, it was an acquired taste. But the images it conveyed were so powerful that they still affect me to this day. It was explosive. It had guts, ideas and drive.
Like it often happens, the band additionally delved into the same approach and modus operandi on the following album, THE BACKCHANNEL BROADCAST. Albeit more perfected and more to the point, with its monochrome palette, it lacks the spark and brilliance of its predecessor. If DBT is a great meal, then TBCB is just three courses of steak: each of them excellent, but probably a tad redundant.
Then, for five years, the band went under the radar. When they resurfaced in 2006, they put out THE TOO LATE SHOW. A hit-and-miss affair, this record contains some of their most memorable material (Target Earth above all) but also some fillers and some tunes which sound more like Teenage Bottlerocket (which singer Kody had joined the previous year) than Lillingtons.
Then they disappeared again for eleven years (except for a sporadic appearance on a Red Scare compilation with what is arguably their single best song ever: Pyramids).
I have to say that when I listened to PROJECT 313 earlier this year I was very disappointed. To me it seemed like a huge step backwards for the band. It's a well-played and well-produced pop punk ep: nothing more and nothing less. It totally lacks the edge and charisma that permeated their previous efforts. I thought they had lost it, I thought they had gone soft. Boy, was I wrong. In retrospect, after hearing their latest record, I have grown to appreciate Project 313 for what it is: the Lillingtons' sweet farewell to pop punk. It is the band saying: “Guys, we've taken you so far: now we want to explore new territory. If you wanna get off our starship now, we will let you down real slow with this one. If you wanna stay, it's fine. Just so you know, it's gonna be a bumpy ride.”
STELLA SAPIENTE is on a whole other level. It's the rocket landing head-first on the face of the moon. It's the severed eye. It's King Kong on the skyscraper. It's a mammoth of an album that effortlessly transcends the shackles pop punk voluntarily put around its own ankles 20 years or so ago. And it comes to life with a grace and with an ease that make it seem incredibly true and natural. To be honest, from a strictly musical standpoint, it's equal parts punk rock, proto/early metal and dark/gothic influences. But the great thing about it is that all these elements are scientifically balanced and calibrated so that none overwhelms the other, just like a great Negroni is equal parts gin, vermouth and bitter. The hard stuff doesn't get in the way and it never becomes bombastic and self-indulgent as metal often gets. The gothic decorations are used as atmospheric relief and the punk rock roots keep the rhythm section straight, simple and clean-cut. “But it's not a punk rock album!” most of you will say. Well, that may be true from a technical perspective. But what definitely IS punk rock about this record is that every aspect of it is useful for the songs and the purpose. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is futile. Nothing is excessive. And guys, this is the first rule of punk rock, not the laws of Germany: everything must serve the whole.
I don't think the guys in the band had any great scope in mind, when they wrote the album. I think they just got tired of the same old formula and found a way to spice it up and keep it fun. Well, it works for me. To my ears, this is the only step off the beaten path of pop punk I have seen in a long, long time. It is probably the first album in the genre to create a fresh combination of song and sound since Dookie.

Just like Phantom Maggot, the Lillingtons once again saved the day. And they did it unknowingly and by showing us all something obvious: anything, anything in the world that wants to stay alive and prosper, has to move inescapably FORWARD.

Written by Matt Failure (Proton Packs)

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Il soldato SNAFU odia i Troll quindi, se devi trollare, fallo con stile e non farti scoprire!