In search of the metaphysical All, LA’s Descendents did their growing up in public. The group debuted as a young power-pop trio on a likable 1979 single (“Ride the Wild”) but then didn’t return to vinyl until 1981, when a four-piece lineup issued the smart, fast and punky 7-inch Fat EP: six fleeting (total time 5:52) Black Flag-like culture statements like “Wienerschnitzel,” “I Like Food” and “My Dad Sucks.” (Besides Fat‘s re-release on 12-inch, cassette and CD-3, the EP and preceding single were combined as Bonus Fat.)
When singer Milo Aukerman left the band to study biochemistry in San Diego, the Descendents pressed on and issued Milo Goes to College, a promising hardcore album with a few dumb bummers amidst the fun. Then drummer Bill Stevenson — the primary Descendent, as it were — went off to join Black Flag, and the group evaporated for a while.
When they reassembled in mid-1985, Milo, Stevenson, bassist Tony Lombardo and ex-SWA guitarist Ray Cooper (who had switched to vocals after Milo’s departure) recorded I Don’t Want to Grow Up. This excellent, surefooted punk album knowingly uses the hyperkinetic musical idiom as a disguise for intelligent, sarcastic songwriting. Melodies (a few border on power pop) and substantial lyrics drift around the edge of obnoxiousness without entirely giving in to it.
Enjoy! features a new bassist and proves that even talented bands with positive attitudes are not immune to gratuitous vulgarity and base stupidity. The title song is a childish paean to farting, complete with audio vérité effects; two others reveal a deeply juvenile attitude towards women. On the other hand, a peppy version of Brian Wilson’s “Wendy” is spectacular; most of the originals — including the satirical “Hürtin’ Crüe,” the Anglo-popping “Get the Time” and the surly noise of the seven-minutes-plus “Days Are Blood” — are at least near-excellent, reflecting the band’s loping musical strides. (Curious art note: the titles listed on the back cover have virtually nothing in common with the record’s contents.)
The disappointing All starts with one of the shortest songs on record: the 1-second title track. Leading new bandmates, Milo and Stevenson take a raunchy guitar-rock excursion (excepting the almost acoustic “Impressions”) that downplays the band’s melodic side. “Clean Sheets” and “Pep Talk” have solid tunes and invigorating performances, but “Van,” “Coolidge,” “Iceman,” the high-concept “All-o-gistics” and lengthy “Schizophrenia” are basically loud and witless, substituting routine guitar work for character. (After the Descendents arrived on SST, the label reissued their prior work. Two Things at Once is a CD/cassette pairing of Milo Goes to College and Bonus Fat.)
Before vanishing into All (get the drift?), the Descendents released a live album, recorded in 1987 at First Avenue in Minneapolis. Liveage!‘s eighteen rushed songs (more on the cassette and CD) review the band’s entire repertoire in a noisy, frenzied attack that’s both fun and exciting.
As Stevenson explains in the informative liner notes, Hallraker (“the other live Descendents LP”) was released to redress fan complaints about material that wasn’t on Liveage! Partially recorded at the same Minneapolis show (the remainder is from a California date a few months earlier), Hallraker serves up sixteen different songs with exactly the same sloppy punk panache.
With Milo joining All, the Descendents made a new album for Epitaph in 1996.