It seems to be a common theme that, over the passage of time, it tends to be more underground bands that have a higher watermark of quality when it comes to new music. While the likes of Def Leppard and KISS will put out anything with the knowledge they can survive on inertia, the acts that have previously never flirted with the mainstream see themselves as still having something to prove, especially punk bands. Hell, this year alone we’ve already had Belvedere proving that exact statement to be true. And now it’s the turn of the Descendents, arguably amongst the most important punk bands of the ’80s, and one of the bands that helped popularise what would come to be known as pop-punk. And with Hypercaffium Spazzinate, their first album in twelve years, their standing as genre legends remains firmly intact.
No, this album is no Milo Goes To College or Everything Sucks, but for a band nearly four decades into their career to make an album with as much energy and life as this is an impressive feat. And though it may sound stupid, it’s astonishing just how much the Descendents sound like themselves here. This could easily be from their ’80s heyday given the retention of so much of what makes this band tick, right down to their signature caricature of frontman Milo Aukerman on the artwork. Musically it holds even more water; Aukerman sounds great, the band are still able to play with speed and vigour, and their slightly nerdy, anti-rockstar aesthetic is prevalent throughout. Its status as a throwback is indisputable, but given that each of the four members are now past 50, its tightness and power is hugely impressive.
But even when judged in a vacuum, Hypercaffium Spazzinate is still a strong album. Progression is essentially a foreign concept here, but throughout this album, Descendents channel the best form of themselves for some genuinely stellar moments. On Paper combines endearing self-deprecation with a monumentally catchy hook (though the comparisons to a “serial raper” are more than a bit iffy), while the earnestness and ever-so-slight dorkiness of Smile is one of the album’s best moments, and Spineless And Scarlet Red sees Aukerman at his most vocally powerful. They’re the kind of songs that live and die on their simplicity, and at this point the Descendents have become masters of their trade – there’s never a shortage of crunchy, three-chord pop-punk on this album, and even on the weaker tracks the instrumentation can often be turned to for some sort of reprieve.
And then we get to the Descendents’ strongest suit, which is making a whole lot out of very little. Bear in mind this album is just over half an hour long with sixteen tracks, the longest of which being three minutes and twenty seconds. And while this sort of album structure has the unavoidable collateral of containing some filler, the band at least find a way of fleshing out even the most meagre of tracks into something that can be considered an actual, tangible song. The main problem that Belvedere had on their comeback album The Revenge Of The Fifth back in May was that the shorter songs on that album felt more like fragments rather than full pieces; the Descendents pull it off to much greater effect on this album. No Fat Burger is 43 seconds long and is literally about the inability to eat fast food, and still manages to survive as a proper song.
The thing that really helps Hypercaffium Spazzinate though, is its authenticity, and no moment highlights that better than the closing track Beyond The Music. It’s a track detailing the band’s continued love for making music, and the gratitude they have for the ability to continually do so. When the idea of a reunion is usually one seen as nothing more than a cash-in of a legacy, to see a band actually addressing that everything they do is for the love of music is the perfect way to round off the album. It’s also the perfect way to bookend this newest chapter of the Descendents’ career, a chapter in which their first album in over a decade is of such a high quality as this. Hypercaffium Spazzinate is unlikely to sit at the top table with some of the band’s other releases, but as a reinstatement into the modern scene that could’ve easily moved on without them, it couldn’t really be much better. This is exactly how a comeback should be made.
For fans of: Bad Religion, The Vandals, The Bouncing Souls
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Hypercaffium Spazzinate’ by Descendents is released on 29th July on Epitaph Records.