Green Day might have grabbed the headlines and the multi-platinum sales figures, but New York’s Black Train Jack proves there’s more than one approach to latter-day pop-punk. The adamantly anti-drug foursome, formed when guitarist Ernie Parada’s hardcore combo Token Entry (in which he played drums) disbanded in 1992, specializes in lightning-quick tempos and effusive choruses — and unlike many of their peers, advocate such un-slacker ideas as self-discipline and personal responsibility.
No Reward is all haywire energy and fight-or-flight adrenaline, a blitz of surprisingly melodic vocal declarations supported by buzzing guitar. More than one track champions clean living with a straight-edge zeal that borders on righteousness: “The Newest One” turns on the chorus “Put to the test and I still come out on top/Put down by the rest, looking back they’re the ones who flopped.”
You’re Not Alone is no less severe, although it is slightly more compassionate. “Not Alone” proclaims, “I don’t hurt myself internally, I’m poison-free intentionally,” and other selections celebrate the virtues of being clear-headed-at breakneck speed. Exhibiting a taste for more daring (almost virtuosic) musical settings here, the band wisely avoids passing judgment or sounding sanctimonious, but comes close on “The Lottery”: “You can’t compare an effortless gamble with a consistent valiant try.” Other bands might get crucified for such messages, but because the music is delivered with such all-or-nothing intensity, the end result is mesmerizing. In a world of poseurs and dime-a-dozen slogans, Black Train Jack mean what they say.