Friday, November 28, 2008

Naked Raygun - All Rise

So I was sitting in a psychology lecture today, and, as psychological discussions are wont to do, the topic inevitably turned to Naked Raygun (my psychology professor is awesome). Specifically, the instructor used his desire to listen to Naked Raygun vinyls in order to explain the concept of drive in relation to Drive Reduction Theory. The analogy was a mess, but it accomplished two things: one, it made me envious (I want All Rise and Throb Throb on vinyl), and two, it transferred onto me the desire of listening to Naked Raygun. It was a situation which could have been considered ironic, but only by someone who does not fully understand the definition of irony.

Released in 1986, All Rise, Naked Raygun's third album, marked the in-between phase of a transition in which the band would evolve from the brasher punk of their debut into the noisy-but-melodic post-punk outfit seen on Jettison (see my post here). It moves away from their previous album, Throb Throb, with an increased emphasis on atmosphere and a change in production style; the sound here sounds more like their later albums than anything they had done previously. There are still some examples of blaring, balls to the wall punk, specifically on "New Dreams", which almost feels like a Throb Throb b-side, but for the most part, the album is more mature than anything the band did before it. Still, this is vintage Naked Raygun, featuring some classic riffs, and the same overriding theme of pessimism found throughout their discography.

In some ways, All Rise could be considered the younger brother to Jettison (unless you have a better metaphor, in which case I suggest you use that instead). The two albums share a great amount of similarities, but the ideas presented on All Rise are accomplished to a greater degree of success on Jettison. All Rise contains the same strongly pop-oriented song structures of Jettison, but feels more like the Buzzcocks than Big Black in doing so, with some of the hooks veering closely into pop-punk territory (see: "Mr. Gridlock"). Combining this development with the darker, more cathartic songs like "Backiash Jack" leaves this album feeling disoriented, caught between the contrasting ideas of melodic punk and noisy art-rock dissonance. The main strength of Jettison was in combining these ideas, but here, the result isn't as cohesive. While some songs pull off the feat perfectly, others just feel awkward, as if they'd rather belong on a Stiff Little Fingers album; which is likely intentional, given the degree to which the former influenced Naked Raygun (see their "Suspect Device" cover for more). It's not that these songs are bad; it's just that they don't exemplify the reasons why I listen to Naked Raygun. Their ability to integrate haunting pop hooks into a blistering punk attack is unparalleled, and it comes off a tad disappointing when they take their foot off the gas just to ape another band's approach. Not bad, just... disappointing.

But slight blemishes aside (and they are only slight), this is still a fantastic album created at a time of transition in the band's career. All Rise generally gets ignored in Naked Raygun's discography, sandwiched in between the band's two more accomplished efforts, but just because it hasn't the intensity or creativity of their other efforts doesn't mean it should be looked over in the least. Lack of cohesion aside, some of the band's best songs are on this album, and it can stand up to, if not surpass, most any punk album of its time. No, it's not Jettison, but what is?

All Rise