Descendents are the ‘Ghostbusters‘ of rock music: geeky, goofy, frequently hilarious, a band of old buddies, totally fucking awesome… also, in the case of singer Milo Aukerman, they literally have a scientist in their ranks (trust him).
The dichotomy between Aukerman’s inner-punk and desire to follow a scientific career has been one of the defining characteristics of the band ever since debut LP Milo Goes to College virtually invented pop-punk nearly three and a half decades ago.
Having now seemingly given up his job as a biochemical researcher, the hope for Descendents fans such as myself is that they might actually write and release more music on a regular basis from now on. Although the band have never officially split, Hypercaffium Spazzinate is only their third album since 1987’s All.
I fell in love with the group in my mid-teens. Second album I Don’t Want to Grow Up was a particularly precious accompaniment to adolescent trials and tribulations. At around the same time the first wave of American mega-successful punk bands emerged – Green Day and Offspring types who owed a lot to what Descendents had been doing for more than a decade before.
Descendents later made the wonderful Everything Sucks, a record which should have seen them take the crown as the undisputed kings of melodic punk. I saw the band play live in the summer of 1997 at Highbury Garage in north London. It remains the sweatiest I have ever been. Although glad to have seen such a cherished band in intimate circumstances, at the same time I couldn’t believe this amazing, pioneering, wonderful group were playing such a small venue as their only UK tour date. They should have been on top of the world at this time.
Instead what happened next was Blink 182, a band who pretty much swiped the Descendents formula, dumbed it down, polished it up to make it shiny (as well as whiney) and became one of the biggest acts on earth.
Now in their early 50s, you might think pop-punk music sounds silly coming from men of advanced years but it really doesn’t. Besides, silliness has always been a big part of the Descendents package. The most humour filled song here ‘No fat Burger’ feels like a middle aged sequel to their early track ‘I Like food’; “No more fat… no more fat… I like food but all the food that tastes good… I can’t have that” declares Aukerman. But this is a band who’ve always been able to make you chuckle one minute and break your heart the next. “Another day goes by… we can’t live like this any more… can’t live without love” goes the chorus to the deeply emotional ‘Without Love’.
Although never overtly political, Descendents have never shied away from broaching controversial subjects with a questioning air. ‘Limiter’ deals with Aukerman’s son’s attention deficit disorder and the drugs he’s been put on to combat it. “I’m so sorry son… I’d fix you myself, if I only could” he declares and it’s gut-wrenching to hear a fellow father open himself up in such a way.
Most affecting of all though are the songs the band now write about themselves – a level of self-mythologizing which always feels touching and genuine and never indulgent. Aukerman’s ode to drummer (and Descendents main-man) Bill Stevenson following serious health issues, ‘Smile’ (“All I can do is lend a hand… be a friend again”) is currently sending shivers down my spine as I listen to it again now for the 20th time, imagining Stevenson beam as he tears into another trademark snare roll (as ripped off by the great Dave Grohl).
Album closer ‘Beyond the Music’ tells the story of the band (“For kids with no friends, it doesn’t seem real and there’s nothing in this world, not a dollar, dream or girl, that can rival what we have between us”) and it’s a joyous end to a ripsnorter of an album.
Guys, it’s so good to have you back. Please, just don’t leave it 12 years before the next one. 4/5