One thing to note about supergroups comprised of typically older punk musicians is that they don’t tend to stick around for long. Exceptions do exist (OFF! are still kicking despite releasing the same album three times), but typically, these bands will get a bit of hype that’s often purely down to who’s in them, they’ll release an album that doesn’t really go anywhere, and they’ll fall off the map. It’s happened plenty of times before – see Vanishing Life, Teenage Time Killers et al – and on paper, Fake Names seems to be more of the same deal. They’ve got the usual benefit of a more instantly noticeable name up front, this time being Refused’s Dennis Lyxzén, and the usual bevy of punk and hardcore vets to fill out the rest of the lineup with ties to Bad Religion, Minor Threat, Girls Against Boys and more. That all sounds well and good in a vacuum, but instances like this have happened more than enough over the past few years to lower the bar of expectations considerably; like with the rest, it probably won’t be outright bad, but it’ll be nothing to write home about either.
Somewhat surprisingly though, Fakes Names’ debut is probably one of the better examples of this particular kind of album that’s been seen in a while. Granted, that’s not necessarily conducive with any sort of longevity – nor is the fact that, for all intents and purposes, this is a pretty standard-sounding punk album – but there’s clearly passion that’s gone into this, even in the clear realisation that this is a side-project and very little else. Thus, it’s pretty low-stakes, but it’s able to hit its necessary marks with a lot of ease, something that can very often be missing with supergroups like this.
Then again, Fake Names clearly wasn’t designed with big ideas in mind in the same way that others might be. This is about as straightforward as punk comes; it might be tempered with hints of power-pop and classic rock to make the melodies a bit sweeter, but otherwise, it’s no-frills, all the time. And for what Fake Names are trying to do, that works perfectly fine, especially on songs like these that aren’t concerned with hitting tremendous heights or experimenting beyond their means. There’s a comfort to the likes of Being Them and First Everlasting being as simple as they are, especially when those two songs in particular come closest to a more Foo Fighters-esque brand of alt-rock, but made a bit scruffier to let the punk in. It’s a similar case with Brick or This Is Nothing; there’s a decent amount of crunch to the instrumentation that keeps it moving along, but even by the standards of more accessible, ‘90s-flavoured punk, there’s a bent to these songs that’s almost reminiscent of Cheap Trick or other older, warmer pop-rock like that. The punk spirit is still there though, particularly with Lyxzén as a vocal presence; he’s more subdued and tuneful than he often is with Refused, but there’s a real sense that age and maturity has lent a weight to his more melodic range, and using that on the rasps and barks of a track like All For Sale hits a really strong point in the intersection between power-pop and punk. It really is a wonderfully catchy album, anchored in its sharpness by the guitars and bass, and condensing it down to just under half an hour to ensure there’s no unnecessary flab. It’s honestly only the squealing tone overlaid across Heavy Feather that’s the only disagreeable thing here; otherwise, Fake Names’ remain consistently solid while avoiding breaking the mould entirely.
It’s the same with the writing too, though that’s arguably where Fake Names might be punching below their weight a bit more than necessary. It does make sense overall, given that this is a pretty light side-project and not the vehicle of choice for any member’s hardest-hitting material, but a song like Darkest Days, while not bad, can be a bit too blanketed and broad when compared to almost anything these artists have come out with in the past. Still, what’s here is decent overall, largely focusing on divides in society and how that’s facilitated by corrupt, capitalistic enterprises on All For Sale and Being Them, but also how affecting it can be to those taking the brunt of it on an emotional level with a song like Weight. It’s a fittingly human sentiment for an album like this where a smaller scale takes precedence, and even if, again, there’s nothing that Fake Names can claim as their own or that they’re putting their own spin on, what’s here is done extremely well all the same and thrives on the merits of how populist and catchy it is.
And it’s somewhat unreasonable to expect Fake Names to go beyond that here. They’ve made no bones about this being a side-project, and as far as side-project fare goes, this is exactly where the lighter, more fun sense of creativity should land. It’s not trying to be more than a really solid punk album, and given that there’s not really a bad song on here and it’s brisk enough to almost always connect, that’s something that’s been achieved remarkably well. Whether it continues last beyond the initial hit is a different story, but there’s something to that hit that makes it worthwhile all the same.
For fans of: Bad Religion, Foo Fighters, The Vandals
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Fake Names’ by Fake Names is released on 8th May on Epitaph Records.