Monday, July 20, 2009

Marky's song #2: D.R.I. - "Decisions"

There’s no way to meaningfully quantify how much influence a band has on their peers, but the Dirty Rotten Imbeciles would easily rank near the top of any such scale as far as hardcore punk goes. They certainly upped the ante as far as velocity is concerned; one might even consider them genre pioneers. They took the sound, refined it, and pushed the gas pedal to the floor. At one point, they were one of the fastest bands on the planet.

This was good for them – it was a time where listeners were trying to see how fast bands could get and still keep things somewhat together while bands were gleefully egging each other on in friendly competition to speed things up more and more. Or at least that’s the kind of camaraderie fair weather revisionists want the story to be remembered for. But velocity alone doesn’t guarantee anything – and D.R.I. also was good (or lucky) enough to pen more than its fair share of classic hardcore songs: “Reaganomics”, “Couch Slouch”, “Equal People”, “I’d Rather Be Sleeping” among others. Their first two albums are hardcore classics.

Still, trailblazing success does not mean a band won’t take its primacy for granted. In the mid-80s, there was a prevailing notion that hardcore was a dying sub-genre. Some bands saw thrash metal bands gaining in popularity while their own fan bases were dwindling and felt the need to alter their sound. The result was known as ‘crossover thrash’ or simply ‘crossover.’ Predictably, different bands had varying degrees of success with this gambit. No band attempted to grab the brass ring of metal (metal brass ring? sounds redundant; must rethink) more than D.R.I. did, and no band paid harder for making that decision. I think anarcho-crust punk band Sore Throat penned at least three anti-D.R.I. songs, and they weren't the only band out there laying out the sellout accusation.

Don’t think for a moment that it wasn’t a deliberate decision on D.R.I.'s part; the fact that they even named the next album Crossover – replete with a chrome metallic version of their old ‘running man’ logo and a pair of skulls on the cover – shows that they were fully aware of what they were doing. But, never really having enough chops to be fully accepted by the metal crowd and derided as sellouts by their original hardcore fans, D.R.I. wound up in a weird sort of no-man’s land where their fans were pockets of adventurous listeners on both sides of the fence who were looking for new sonics outside their usual gaggle of bands. For better or for worse, this was the territory the band had decided to stake out for itself.

So why this song? Why, after calling their earlier material ‘classic’ and declaring the music that followed not up to snuff, would I pick a song from the earliest part of their crossover phase? Because it deserves to be rescued. Tucked away at the end of side one, “Decisions” is actually a pretty good tune. Drummer Felix Griffin never goes past a mid-paced thrash gallop (a big deal for a band once considered one of the fastest), which allows vocalist Kurt Brecht the room to enunciate his syllables. Earlier albums had Brecht cramming words together in order to make them fit the verses – his frenzied vocal delivery part of the exhilarating adrenalin rush, but the slowed-down approach in this song drives the point home – that there are no guarantees in life – better than the hurried method would. There’s harmony in Spike Cassidy’s guitar and Josh Pappe’s bass as they tentatively explore doing something with their instruments besides slashing away at power chords. Heck, even the guitar solo tacked onto the last chorus is decent.

Whether this band is considered hardcore, metal or crossover, it makes no difference. I may be being unnecessarily harsh on the group, yet I honestly can’t shake the feeling that this song is good only by accident. But hey, ours is not to complain. Ours is to enjoy. Do that.

1 comment:

  1. I love D.R.I. I really enjoy the stuff from the period that most people dislike, though. I'm a big fan of '4 of a Kind' - which I think is universally acknowledged to be their worst album.