Armed with a cool name, solidly adrenalized pop punk (with a side of horn-punched ska) and a helpful eye for offhand lyrics (“My Girlfriend’s Shower Sucks,” “Here in Your Bedroom,” the trendo-scene antagonism of “The City With Two Faces,” the sexual humiliation of “Mable”), this lively and colorful Los Angeles quartet was elected next big thing by arbiters of such things in early ’96. Flashing bits of the Clash, Selecter and Social Distortion, the self-titled album is easily entertaining without shaking any tar out of the pits. There are, however, signs of superior skill, determination and personality in the grooves. Driven by the hasty rhythm section of Dangerous Darrin Pfeiffer and Simon Williams, singer/guitarist John Feldmann’s voice favors conviction over melodious skill but he hits his marks and makes his points. Doubled by guitarist Charlie Paulson, he erects a rich rhythm roar that hurries the melodies — both flimsy and soaring — along without spilling a drop.
Feldmann and company deliver even more fun on Hang-Ups, even if they don’t stray too far from the game plan of their debut. The group’s ska element and pop punk side blend more easily on “If Only” with lines that had to be written by a child of the ’80s: “If only I was eighteen/And had the courage of The A-Team/Maybe then you’d be with me.” “This Lonely Place” is one of the sunniest and most enjoyable tunes ’90s ska brought to the airwaves. But “Carlita” is a recipe for whiplash — one minute it’s hard rock, the next it’s old-school bluebeat with guest hornman Angelo Moore of Fishbone taking a brief lead vocal. The death-metal-meets-Beastie-Boys “S.M.P.” (aka “Skiers Must Perish”) proves Goldfinger can capably handle pretty much any genre it tries. Hang-Ups does take the penchant for CD bonus tracks too far, with three throwaways and studio banter filling over 30 minutes after the album ends.
Recorded live after a gig in Omaha, Nebraska, the all-covers Darrin’s Coconut Ass (named for drummer Pfeiffer) bursts with energy. The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” has been covered before (Dinosaur Jr’s version being the best known), but Robert Smith probably never imagined his song being this much fun. All in all, the disc is a who’s who of Feldmann’s influences — Joe Jackson, The Police, Peter Tosh, The Specials and, surprisingly, The Who.
Bassist Simon Williams left and was replaced by Kelly LeMieux for Stomping Ground, the band’s first misstep. Attempts to escape the pop-punk-ska ghetto — “The End of the Day” (which sounds like The Kinks) and the almost-metal “Bro” — fail miserably. But “I’m Down,” which opens the album, continues the progress made on Hang-Ups and Nena’s “99 Red Balloons” is an inspired cover choice, but those two tracks aren’t enough to save Stomping Ground from being a huge letdown.
Open Your Eyes introduces another new member (guitarist Brian Arthur in place of Charlie Paulson), pissed-off songs from Feldmann (like “Spokesman,” which attacks entertainers who do ads) and vegan proselytizing. The title track promotes the vegan lifestyle, while the album offers two pages of information on how to be a vegan. (Feldmann even renamed his publishing company Vegan Boy Music.) Maybe the diet is working — Open Your Eyes is Goldfinger’s most consistent-sounding album, with an absence of ska in favor of solid pop-rock gems like “Tell Me” and “January.” And the band’s humor is back on “F.T.N.,” a brutal indictment of meat-lover Ted Nugent, and drummer Pfeffier’s ode to hockey great “Wayne Gretzky.” A welcome return to form.