Produced by Middle Class bassist Mike Patton (not the Faith No More singer), Adolescents is one of the better longplayers to come out of the early Southern California hardcore punk scene. With the legendary Rikk Agnew on guitar, the first album by this high-energy Orange County quintet (drawing some of its teenaged membership from Agent Orange and Social Distortion) has a crisp, metallic guitar sound and clear, comprehensible vocals.
The group fell apart soon after the first album, but Rikk, singer Tony Montana (né Brandenburg) and bassist Steve Soto (later of Joyride) put it back together in 1986, leading the first of several revolving lineups. The self-released Brats in Battalions, a hard-hitting but sloppy rush of punk, rock, demi-metal and speedskating near-core, credits six members (including guitarist Alfie Agnew standing in for his older brother, Frank) and contains covers of “House of the Rising Sun” and “I Got a Right.” (The fragmentary “Do the Freddy,” however, is an original.)
With Montana and two Agnew siblings gone, Rikk and Soto co-wrote the songs and share the vocals on Balboa Fun*Zone, a lyrically provocative rock record of substantial merit. Agnew sings “Alone Against the World,” a strongly cautionary tale about heroin addiction; Soto takes charge on “It’s Tattoo Time,” a paean to the epidermal art. Even an uncalled-for version of “Instant Karma” receives reverent, intelligent treatment. Topped off with crisp production of the quartet’s thick guitar sound, the green-vinyl Balboa is an impressively mature record. (The cassette appends “Surf Yogi”; the CD adds that song plus two more.)
The crappy-sounding Live 1981 and 1986 (apparently a side of each, although the notes don’t specify who-where-when) features three different Agnews singing and playing guitar in raw-voiced garage thrash. The 16 cuts (18 on cassette; 21 on CD) cover most of the first album’s material, giving such high-school concerns as “L.A. Girl,” “No Friends” and “Word Attack” full-throttle stagings, complete with jokey introductions. (“Hi, we’re the Bangles…”)
Between the Adolescents’ two lives (and a brief but historical pivotal stint in Christian Death), Rikk Agnew made a nifty one-man solo album of enjoyable loud pop and demi-punk songs played with spunk and variety. Despite clumsy lyrics and rudimentary production, All by Myself proves that Agnew’s budding abilities were not likely to be restrained by any simple genre formula.
Following the Adolescents’ farewell in ’89, Agnew began the new decade with another solo outing. Except that yesterday’s punk now favors mildly metalized hard rock and has access to better production, Emotional Vomit has many of the same qualities as All by Myself. Brothers Alfie and Frank are among the few guests on this uneven collection of originals (plus a steely cover of Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again”).