One of America’s longest-running hardcore shows, Washington DC’s Government Issue is a multi-faceted band that has been widely underrated, despite a large and noteworthy catalogue that dates back to 1981. Following an early release on Dischord (the ten-song Legless Bull 7-inch, later compiled on Four Old 7″s), the band — which initially included bassist Brian Baker, better known as a member of Minor Threat — cut the unprepossessing Make an Effort, exhibiting minor flashes of potential brilliance. “No Way Out” and “Twisted Views” are run-of-the-mill quickies, but “Teenager in a Box” is a well-crafted indicator of things to come.
Mainman/vocalist John Stabb Schroeder led a notably diminished Government Issue into a holding pattern on Boycott Stabb, sticking close to ‘core style in a series of brisk soundalikes, only one (a new version of “Sheer Terror,” a song included on both Legless Bull and Make an Effort) reaching the two-minute mark. Produced by Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye, the record isn’t dreadful, it’s just generic.
The GIs began to display marked maturity and a bit of stylistic independence on 1984’s Joyride, loudly co-produced by Baker. With improvements in Tom Lyle’s guitar work and Schroeder’s singing, and the arrival of Mike Fellows, the quartet’s third bassist (and most competent to date), Joyride takes a few cautious steps away from hardcore orthodoxy. (Admittedly, the heavy metal insinuations of “Joyride” and “Notch to My Crotch” are not necessarily a step in the right direction.) Odd inclusions: a sludgy but tuneful cover of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin,” the second version of “Hall of Fame” (from Boycott Stabb) and another (uncredited) version of “Sheer Terror.”
With another change of bassist and Baker continuing as co-producer, GI made its last real hardcore record, The Fun Just Never Ends (also issued on a joint CD with Joyride, adding a live version of “Vanity Fare” as a bonus). Slowed to a solid mid-tempo chug, “Written Word” and “The Next Time” are neat and tuneful class-of-’77 rockers, proof that Government Issue was not just a face in the crowd.
Opening with a thickly melodic hypno-instrumental (“Visions and ?”), Government Issue (aka GI-5) edges the band away from its roots. The second track, “They Know,” uses hardcore as a stepping-off point, and then abandons the format entirely, turning literally post-punk on the next song, “Locked Inside.” With Lyle playing keyboards (organ on the backwards “Memories Past” — ha ha) and even electric sitar (on the misbegotten psychedelia of “Last Forever”), the album touches a number of memorably melodic bases, sounding in spots like mid-period Hüsker Dü and/or mid-period Damned. (The CD and cassette add a bonus of — you guessed it — “Sheer Terror.”)
Having found its voice, GI (sporting a tremendous new rhythm section) ran with it on the next two albums, both of which are great. Produced by Lyle, You is a paragon of pop punk precision, a masterwork of meticulous playing and abundant hooks. Stabb’s emergence as an American Dave Vanian of sorts isn’t as weird as it sounds, and gangly backing vocals provide flip contrast on catchy songs like “Jaded Eyes” and the Clashy chorus of “Man in a Trap.” Special favorites: “Caring Line” and “Where You Live.”
The apex of GI’s studio career, Crash is something of a musical summary of the band’s eight-year history. Each track sounds as if it had been assembled on a loom, with fibers of hardcore, punk, pop metal and even early-’80s new wave knitted together. Strong cuts include “Time Will Rearrange,” “For Ever” and “Strange Wine.”
Strange Wine is a ten-track collection: the titular album cut, new decelerated studio renditions of “I’m James Dean” and “Teenager in a Box” (both from the band’s earliest days) and a live retrospective recorded at CBGB in August ’87.