It’s kind of funny—the idea of punk has become disassembled and rebuilt so much over the years that its straight-laced, ‘standard’ forms could come across as underwhelming, and yet Grade 2 are pretty damn good at being the exact opposite. Their last album Graveyard Island had significantly more working away under the hood compared to a similar ilk, a factor that’s inevitably become Grade 2’s secret weapon. It’s no wonder that they’ve got Rancid’s Tim Armstrong in their corner when he’s been on that same wavelength for decades, where if the music is the perfect meld of tight, hard-hitting and catchy enough, you can bypass more or less any obstacle.
So why not just carry on? There’s no need for Grade 2 to undergo any major overhaul just yet, not when they’re still punching out a surplus of punk bangers that fits every one of those three criteria exactly. When the swift bassline of Judgement Day kicks things into action, it’s a telltale sign that we’re back in action immediately, backed up by how tight and equally slick the central riff is to be shouted over. Cast aside are any unnecessary trimmings or empty calories; this is punk in its most straightforward, no-nonsense form, and it’s frequently excellent.
Though that’s to be expected when so much is this carries over from its predecessor, just maybe with a lick or two of paint to keep it fresh. That’s about it; Grade 2’s central formula is so resoundingly strong that any criticism can really only circle around how good the hooks they plug into it are. On that front, once again, there aren’t many complaints. Sure, some are stronger than others, but that’ll always be the case among a 15-track album, and even then, the gradation of quality isn’t huge. At its best, there’s a riotous energy to Under The Streetlight that’s impossibly infectious, as is the slight Britpop tone of Midnight Ferry and the roared chorus of Parasite. But even then, Grade 2 are so uniformly effective and efficient that ‘highlights’ are there to such a granular degree. Perhaps Gaslight doesn’t work quite as well, as a sub-minute flirtation with hardcore that this specific sound finds it difficult to acclimatise too, but even that isn’t strictly bad.
It’s the accessibility of it all that really makes Grade 2 shine, and that’s meant in more ways than one. Obviously it’s catchy as anything with hooks and riffs and basslines packed in every crevice, but it’s to Grade 2’s benefit that they aren’t gated to what ‘British punk’ usually entails. It’s still a notable influence, but the shades of Rancid and traditionally American skate-punk are just as present, and woven in seamlessly. Where so much of Brit-punk lodged in a classic sound will default to a shouting Cockney bloke over deliberately shoddy discord in a vain attempt to sound ‘authentic’, it’s so good to see that Grade 2 don’t feel as though they have to be that. Melody is far more appealing at the end of the day, and it can still pull off the hard-nosed fighting spirit on songs like Brassic and Streetrat Skallywag.
It’s just so nicely pulled off in all forms, and gives Grade 2 an even greater sense of life. With the likes of Under The Streetlight and See You Around, there’s a real communality and positivity to them, something which many of ‘proper’ punk’s current bearers often forget exists. Of course you’re going to acknowledge how utterly fucked everything seems to be—the ample groundwork for a punk album that lays itself—but dwelling on it too hard doesn’t seem in Grade 2’s nature. There’s still a silver lining to chase, one that their sound alone is custom-built to foster, in a gang-ready rollick dealing out hit after hit.
In other words, it’s the absolute best kind of punk album when it comes to going straight down the middle and nailing the landing. That’s two for two on that criteria that Grade 2 are up to now, still with no sign of ache or slowing down, or a lack of exuberance that’s so crucial in keeping all of this rattling along. Within punk, they’re freshening up the classic sound in no uncertain terms, and turning in some great work as a result, front to back. Any weak links are still notably lacking, as are signs that they can’t carry on like this for a good long while. Basically, if you like punk—particularly of an old-school persuasion—and Grade 2 aren’t on your radar yet, rectify that immediately.
For fans of: Rancid, The Bouncing Souls, The Buzzcocks
‘Grade 2’ by Grade 2 is released on 17th February on Hellcat Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall