Strike Anywhere earned praise early in their career for being an energetic hardcore band. The group’s lyrics were always positive and inspiring. The music was powerful without being oppressive, technically intricate without being metal. Chorus of One and Change is a Sound were honest and blistering salvos of political belief and punk attitude. However, on the band’s new release, Dead FM, Strike Anywhere has fallen into complacency.
Dead FM is Strike Anywhere’s first album for Fat Wreck Chords, and it automatically rings in as a Fat release. Fat was often criticized in the early ’90s for only producing bands that sounded like NOFX, the band of label founder/owner “Fat” Mike. This was called the “Fat Sound.” While Strike Anywhere certainly doesn’t sound like NOFX, the Fat polish has certainly been applied to the band. The tracks on Dead FM are devoid of crunch but chock full of near-pop-punk instrumentation. Luckily, the album still has the kind of lyrical heart fans have always expected, thanks to frontman Thomas Barnett.
Barnett tackles a wide variety of topics on this release. Opening track, “Sedition,” details his grandfather’s unwitting involvement in the Manhattan Project, and the mixed feelings his grandfather had once he realized he had helped with the nuclear attack on Japan during World War II. The radiation exposure from that project has led to health complications for Barnett and his family since. The rest of the band matches Barnett’s fury blow for blow as he sings, “Hiroshima started in Tennessee. Let it end with me, let it end.”
The rest of the first half of Dead FM continues along the same style. “The Promise” looks at the oppression of Native Americans while single-worthy “Prisoner Echoes” wonders why the American Dream has become so distorted and violent. These songs are hardcore at its best.
But, somewhere around track eight, “Hollywood Cemetery,” the band begins to spin the wheels of their musical van. Sure, the song picks up halfway through, but it’s still not enough. Barnett ends the song with a “f*** you” to enemies, which is totally punk rock but also a bit telling. Barnett has always been a fine lyricist who could easily detail his feelings on any subject. His use of profanity reveals he’s running out of things to say (or maybe he’s just not trying as hard). Either way, these words are on crutches.
The rest of Dead FM goes by unremarkably. Album closer “Ballad of Bloody Run” is a fun little punk ditty about the band’s hometown, Richmond. It’s ridiculously catchy, especially the chorus “I’m the last one. Let me be the last one to grow up numb.” But it sounds like it was written by a totally different band. Maybe it’s the “Fat Sound” kicking in, but the song is way too polished and toned-down, especially in comparison to the first half of the album, thus making it an awkward conclusion to the record.
Dead FM is a mixed bag. It has some amazing songs, like “Sedition” and “How to Pray,” and it has some crappy songs, like anything between tracks eight and 13. Strike Anywhere is still a good hardcore band, but their focus is slipping. Here’s hoping these tunes can catch fire in a live setting.