There’s nothing like the news of a new Descendents album to improve a summer in advance –and, with a particularly slow start to the good weather, their short, sweet blasts of melodic punk are exactly what is needed to counteract the strangely unseasonal Seasonal Affective Disorder caused by leaving the house at least three days a week to find South London rain-drenched and storm-swept.
Hypercaffium Spazzinate, of course, would be a cause for celebration regardless of the weather; the band’s first release since 2004 sees them return to Epitaph, the label under which they recorded 1996’s ‘Everything Sucks’. Does this mean we can draw in depth stylistic comparisons between the two albums recorded under Brett Gurewitz’s label whilst at the same time contrasting them with ‘Cool To Be You’, the Fat Wreck album sandwiched between? Does it bollocks. Bill Stevenson has always had a keen eye to which side his punk rock bread is buttered on and Hypercaffium sits comfortably amongst the band’s previous efforts, offering 16 sometimes deceptively sharp blasts of what can be termed ‘pop punk’, but only once you mentally eschew the taint of saccharine awfulness which the late 90s and early 00s bought to that term.
Opener ‘Feel This’ sets the general pace at 1:14 in length, with only half the songs exceeding two minutes and a grand total of three that get past three. I found myself having to stop the album when I needed to go down and get a beer out of the fridge, in case I missed anything vital. That’s what you get with me, quality professionalism. Anyway, ‘Feel This’ drives full speed into ‘Victim Of Me’, the song which pre-hyped the album to the world and while it may not quite reach ‘Milo Goes to College’ speed, it definitely offers Karl Alvarez’s fingers a workout on a breakneck bass line on a tune which will have you skipping the needle back more than once (or moving the mouse and double clicking like the horrible nowadays bastard you are). ‘On Paper’ slows things down and brings into the mix the self-deprecating humour that Milo’s soulful, very slightly snotty, very slightly roughened voice is so perfectly suited to – the sound that so many vocalists took as a template to fall far short of.
From then on in and for 16 songs the band take the sound which they’ve perfected so well and throw in a number of variables, still keeping hold of their core formula like a control variable in one of Milo’s lab tests. ‘No Fat Burger’ harks back to the band’s earliest days musically, as Bill Stevenson’s lyrics bemoan the doctor’s orders which have stopped him scoffing whatever he wants due to health issues covered in the killer 2013 documentary ‘Filmage’. Just remember as you listen to the primal but supremely controlled beat underpinning every track that the man playing it has survived health issues which would kill five other people at once.
Elsewhere, this may not be a change in style from previous releases but that doesn’t mean that the Descendents are ploughing the same furrow in any way. On the contrary. The hooks which made the likes of ‘Bikeage’, ‘Silly Girl’ and ‘When I Get Old’ such instant classics do the same for much of Hypercaffium. Whether it’s the full pelt race of ‘Human Being’ or the mellower, hook laden likes of ‘Shameless Halo’ or ‘Comeback Kid’, the band sound like they don’t even know what the term ‘twelve year album gap’ means. Closer ‘Beyond the Music’ is a potted history of the band, a microcosm of the personal lean of their lyrics which has definitely played a massive part in them becoming such a worldwide phenomenon.
Despite having almost 40 years of history, and a major place in the history of punk music and numerous musical milestones, they are still writing songs of awkward love, caffeine obsessions and flatulence which strike a chord the world over…and long may they continue doing so.