THE EUROPEAN POPPUNK VIRUS VOL. 2 - Various Artists (Stardumb)
It's as obvious as a two-dollar wig on a bald man that Stardumb has quickly risen to the top of the pop punk big rock candy mountain, European division, with a series of albums from the likes of Backwood Creatures, The Apers, Sonic Dolls, and the Groovie Ghoulies which are positively rippling with axe-laced ear candy, heady harmonies, and crunchy, spirited production - no small feat considering none of these merry marketing-age kids with guitars, bass, drums and a dream are likely to carve out a big old hunk of the MTV pie for themselves.
For "The European Poppunk Virus Vol. 2" (released nearly two years after the first compendium), Stardumb conducted another continental cattle call, found their mailbox flooded with responses, and picked 28 songs from 28 bands, all previously unreleased. Relatively speaking, this one isn't quite up to usual Stardumb standards, but that's like saying Ariel Bender ain't no Mick Ralphs. Given his track record, we should probably forgive Stefan Stardumb's foibles since even God occasionally screws up (how else to explain the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, light beer, or Joe Strummer's early exit from the planet?).
Immediately apparent is the huge shadow the Ramones cast over this entire album from the music right down to the often painfully contrived and cutesy stage names adopted by most of the musos who appear here. "Too Good For Me" from Scotland's Ritalins welds a slightly-accelerated opening salvo of drums straight out of "Rock & Roll High School" with a Johnny-like chord sequence from "Do You Remember Rock 'N' Roll Radio?", throwing in handclaps and lead vocals from Si Ritalin which are younger, louder, and snottier than even those of the late Stiv Bators.
The least successful songs on this compilation are those that stray the farthest from Stardumb's tried and true formula (not to be confused with formulaic) of larger-than-life hooks puncuated with buzzing guitars, punchy drums, and bratty vocals. England's Zatopeks' doo-woppish "Devil In A '55," while not interminable, just seems out of place and in dire need of an umbrella considering the shit storm of fizzy carbonation raining down around it. Old-school power pop merchants Any Trouble once tried to warn that "girls are always right" but somebody forgot to tell Germany's Boonaraaas!!! (worthy of three exclamation points? - hardly), The Waukees (Italy), and Spoonster (Scotland) whose frontwomen all waste time chasing the ghosts of Debbie Harry, Lene Lovich, and Poly Styrene. It's not that their contributions are all that bad or even unwelcome, but I have some sort of mental block (some would argue mental problem) that I just can't come to grips with when it comes to chicks trying to resurrect the rock. There, I've said it! Hate mail and demands for my head in a basket should be addressed to The Barman.
Believe it or not, the intro to The Flakes' (Sweden) "She's So Natural" sounds like something right out of the Iron Maiden canon before it blossoms into a frothy chunk of pop fluff which wouldn't seem out of place as the theme song to a 1970's Friday night sit-com. Call it a hunch, but I'd be willing to bet Germany's Battledykes have a few Toy Dolls albums in their collection and their "Leave Me Alone" is the kind of pop workout Olga would be proud to claim as his own.
Elsewhere, Stardumb serves up two more flat-out great barnstormers from what is suspiciously looking like a bottomless reserve on the parts of The Apers and Backwood Creatures, both full of diamond-hard hooks and a throbbing rhythmic pulse. As much as I'm prone to fawn over both groups, they may well have met their match in The Grizzly Adams Band from (everybody together now!) Germany, whose "She Sucked My Brain Out" is over much too soon at 1:37. Watch out for these guys. They have a new album due out soon on the Chief label and if this song is any indicator, it's going to brighten quite a few worlds.
So is the fact that "The European Poppunk Virus Vol. 2" is two beers shy of a six-pack a sign the apocalypse is at hand or merely evidence that Stardumb is run by humans instead of factory automatons preprogrammed to churn out sizzling, three-minute blasts of heroic, swirling pop punk with hearts full of soul? Who cares? This ain't rocket science and I say that's a beautiful thing. - Clark Paull
THE EUROPEAN POPPUNK VIRUS: 28 PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED TRACKS BY 28 GREAT EUROPEAN BANDS - Various Artists (Stardumb)
Who said the European Continent south of Scandinavia was a rock wasteland? Holland label Stardumb are managing to punch a hole in THAT theory and this impressive sampler of 28 bands from all around the place shows how. It's a daunting task assessing a collection like this, a generous serving of buzzsaw pop punk (with the empahsis on punk) but we'll try.
Some of these bands (The Apers, The Manges, Peawees, The Popsters, Retarded and the Travoltas) have graced the I-94 Bar sound system, but most have not. And all the tracks are unreleased anyway, at least in the forms in which they appear here. Most bands represented share common traits: Guitars played fast but tempered with a fair spinkling of melody. Songs that don't outlast their welcome. Lots of hooks and harmonies. Songs about girls. And cars.
Some less random observations: The Portables (one of the few Swedish bands to make it) wouldn't exist if not for the Ramones - and that opinion's not just based on the 1-2-3-4 count-in to "Leave It Behind". Pity about the lack of production on the guitar. On "I Only Love Rock and Roll", The Ragin' Hormones' singer (who's from the Netherlands) makes it sound like Dee Dee may have created more than lots of work for tattooists on the Ramones' sweeps through Europe. A paternity suit should follow but their drummer's tendency to change tempo is actually endearing. The Hormones' singer has a half brother in Germany and he sings for the Lobotomys. On Prom Nite Queen" he makes it sound like Dee Dee was busier than a sailor with a fistful of 50s on his occasional nights off on those long tours. Italy's favourite Ramones tribute band, Retarded, manage a "Brain Drain" outtake in "New Days". And fuck me, if The Shits' "I Wanna Go to Hollywood" doesn't sound just like...well, you can guess which band.
They couldn't collectively win the war but, between them, Italy and Germany manage to contribute 20 of the songs here. The sole English contribution is by the Norma Jeans and "I Didn't Know" is one of the most frantic things here, while still maintaining a sense of poppish fun. No mean feat.
It's mostly boys' own stuff, but the girls do make an appearance on "Backwoods Song" by The Battledykes and the stylish "Day by Day" by Italy's Pink Panthers, the latter band leaving the overrated Donnas for dead.
The award for "Shortest Song Because We're Paying for Studio Time By the Minute" goes to Italy's The Reekys whose "I Don't Wanna Feel Like That" clocks in at 52 seconds. After that, you'll need a stiff ouzo and a lie down. Travoltas are from the Netherlands and manage to put out the longest (just five minutes) and most sonically adventurous cut, "Nail You". Space Rock meets Psych Punk and it's a million miles removed from the split single they put out on the same label.
Some pop punk picks: Peawees' "In My Heart Tonight" strikes a chord with a ripping melody line from some more obviously Ramones-influenced Italians. The Sonic Dolls from Germany get along on the back of a fluid engine room and bouncy counterpoint chorus with "Dance With Me Tonight". The punk surf of The Favorats (another German outfit) shines on "Surfin' Surfin'".
If 28 tracks of (mostly) Ramones-influenced powerpunk sounds daunting, fear not. There's ample diversity to maintain interest levels. Thankfully, none of it's polished to a dull Green Day shine. Give "The European Poppunk Virus" a listen and you might find a few of its strains infectious. - The Barman
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