ALBUM REVIEW: Fake Names – ‘Expendables’

Artwork for Fake Names’ ‘Expendables’ - a parade of naked mannequins near an industrial-looking building

When they released their debut in 2020, Fake Names had the distinction of being a rare punk ‘supergroup’ worth the weight of its members’ legacies. That’s possibly as a result of not trying to simply replicate said legacies, instead redirect them into something through the lens of older pop-rock or radio-rock, i.e. with much lower stakes. And that did work; it was a decently fun, punchy album buoyed by genuine talent in its ranks that didn’t swallow the actual output. As tempting as it is to rest on the laurels of a cast boasting alumni of Bad Religion, Minor Threat, Refused and more, it takes admirable restraint to put that to one side and just make good music.

It’s a rarity of the ol’ ‘supergroup’ tag, often seen as a brand of ego more than a proprietary symbol of quality, and maybe that’s why Fake Names do so well. Between actual creative effort and the humbleness with which it’s approached, nothing about this gives off ‘vanity project’ vibes which, even in punk, isn’t uncommon. No, Fake Names are content to just get their heads down and work, and hit some real fertile results from some disparate but complementary creative styles. As guitarist Brian Baker himself states, “Dennis [Lyxzén, vocals] writes about revolution, and Michael [Hampton, guitar] and I write pop songs.”

So with that in mind, here’s Expendables, Fake Names’ newest collection of pop songs about revolution, and another pretty good one at that. The ethos remaining intact is the main port of call, in how it’s quick and no-frills while still having a creativity to it, but also knowing its limits. There are no wild spurts into the wilderness sonically; simultaneously, there’s enough packed into a razor-tight framework to feel full-formed, a balance that’s kept rather unanimously. Here, they’ve dialled up the layers of classic rock and post-punk, and against the coiled punk and post-hardcore that’s remained their base, Fake Names do strike with impressive efficiency.

As previously mentioned, it’s the product of members who operate in different circles with different styles, but who know how the right connection points in each to bring them together. Take Don’t Blame Yourself for example, and how it’s smeared in post-punk monochrome thanks to the heaving bass and atmosphere, but that doesn’t dampen the penchant for punk thrill-seeking, or a bright, bold Thin Lizzy lick before it collapses into its own murk. It’s probably the most immediately dynamic track on the album for how open and winding the changes in sound are, and that feels somewhat deliberate as a bigger centrepiece.

It’s more ‘standard’ elsewhere, though the presence of individually turning gears makes that statement read a lot less disparagingly. Targets and Delete Myself heavily feel the benefit of threading in some stark propulsion (again, Johnny Temple’s bass does a lot of heavy lifting), and Madtown sinks into the post-punk side even further with its deliberate, melancholy tone that’s easily the album’s biggest swing away. There’s also Go in that camp, feeling like a blend of a classic rock ‘n’ roll riff with a guitar line the Foo Fighters just have to have used themselves at some point, but it’s a lot less effective in how, despite the older influences elsewhere, it actually feels old and tired.

It’s a clear outlier though, which in itself is a strong indication of how well Fake Names are doing here. You can still argue there’s an element of nostalgia-tethering here, but it’s not taut to the point of immovability like with plenty others. When you’ve got Dennis Lyxzén in your band, that just doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen, as a man who’s never overtly compromised his work or been driven by anything other than his own creative drum. With Fake Names, it’s one of his more straightforward endeavours, but it’s still true to an extent. His distinct presence is where so much of that energy comes from, in the anxious yelps comprising his delivery and the bleak lyrics aware of his place in a burning world in which impermanence is a certainly. It’s certainly not as barbed as a Refused album with the same topics would be, but again, higher-effort side-project fare does count for a lot.

But it’s in the way that statements like that carry such a weight of cynicism and aspersion that’s severely unfair to a band like Fake Names. They’re able to bypass some of the more thundering weaknesses abundant in the supergroup / side-project space, and just…work a whole lot more. There’s no weariness of obligation to Expendables; it has purpose and is fully aware of that, and thus turns out more readily for it. As faint-to-the-point-of-apparition as that praise may be—“Wow, this band is putting effort in? What a novel concept!”—it’s hard to argue against it paying off. This is another strong album, showing deliberate growth and expansion, and feeling as though Fake Names have something to offer beyond name recognition. And when these punk collectives have portrayed the opposite for way too long, it’s worth acknowledging and celebrating.

For fans of: INVSN, Bad Religion, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes

‘Expendables’ by Fake Names is released on 3rd March on Epitaph Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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