[NOTE: Devils Brigade keep changing their mind on whether or not they're using an apostrophe. Promotional material calls them "Devil's Brigade," but none of their releases use an apostrophe, so I've opted to drop it. LET THE DOMINOES FALL.]
I love Matt Freeman. He’ll always be noteworthy in the punk community for Rancid and Operation Ivy. Anyone who knocks his abilities as a bassist can be shutdown with a single play of “Maxwell Murder.” Appreciating him as a vocalist, however, takes devotion. He’s kind of like the punk rock Louis Armstrong – renowned for his instrumental work, but man could his singing curl your toes. That said, I have a fondness for Freeman’s lead vocals on Rancid songs like “Black Derby Jacket” and “
I first learned about Devils Brigade through “Vampire Girl” on Give ’Em the Boot Volume 3, and it remains the best introduction to the band. Freeman sounds ridiculously gruff and gravelly as always as he sings about dodging a lady with a case of the vampirisms. A more intense re-recorded version appears here, and it’s still one of Devils Brigade’s best songs. Sadly, the other songs aren’t as gleefully macabre, instead focusing on working class problems and motorcycles, among other things. The music still serves up delicious slices of psychobilly, though.
I called Devils Brigade a side project earlier, but I’m not so sure that’s appropriate. Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong plays guitar, and Lars Fredericksen even shows up for a song (“
Here’s where I come into conflict with rating systems. The music critic in me can’t give Devils Brigade a perfect score because, well, it’s awfully niche. Some of the songs are pretty terrible – “Protest Song” is got-damn cheesy with its celebration of “the working man / the blue collar man / he’s a fighting man” – and the lyrics are wanting. But I appreciate Freeman’s work past and present quite a bit, and I’ve been spinning his latest album even though I probably could have paid attention to other, better records. Rancid and their offshoots are worth hearing for their misses almost as much as their hits (well, unless Skinhead Rob is involved), and this record sounds like a group of friends having fun. Sure, I wish it was kitschier a la “Vampire Girl,” but it’s also been a while since the last Tiger Army album. I need this one as is.