A longtime fixture in New London, Connecticut, the Reducers (whose existence caused a California punk group to dub itself Reducers SF) soak up influences — Chuck Berry, Anglo-pop, pub rock, glam, punk and more — and reconfigure them into punchy, catchy tunes. On the politely energetic debut, the everyone-sings-everyone-writes quartet offers social critique and consumer culture in the worshipful “Black Plastic Shoes,” the bitter “Life in the Neighborhood” and the politically paranoid “Scared of Cops.” The title track of the better-produced Let’s Go! is a great traveling number with a catchy, urgent chorus; the rest of the LP is enthusiastic and lyrically acute. Over a churning R&B vamp on “Bums I Used to Know,” the band chides itself for “this honky imitation of the blues.”
Redux contains all of those songs and two dozen (!) more in a substantial one-disc career summary. The all-new Shinola finds the reliable Reducers — conviction, enthusiasm and middlebrow craft unflagging more than a decade after the self-released debut album — pretty much where they began. In light of the youthful aspirations of “Let’s Go!,” the abiding ambition of “Real Gone” — an adult version of the same runaway dream — is truly poignant. Otherwise, the band — Peter Detmold (guitar/vocals), Hugh Birdsall (guitar/vocals), Tom Trombley (drums) and Steve Kaika (bass/vocals) — is increasingly a collection of its individual impulses: sizzling boogie (“Don’t Make Mad” is proof that a little spice can invigorate even the hoariest rock leftover), old-school power pop (“Some Other Time”), an obsession with violence (“The Witness,” “The Power of the Gun”) and a variation on British roots rock (“Medium Cool”). Flashes of such vintage influences as Wreckless Eric, 999, the Records, Cheap Trick and the Clash mark these guys as record collectors tied to a lost era, but the album’s real sign of time passing is “Baby, You’re Gonna Lose,” a badly sung acoustic harmony warning addressed to a wayward teenager. Staring into the eye of the generation gap, the parental protagonist remonstrates, “If you keep it up girl you could wind up on the end of a gun,” admitting, in the next breath, “Don’t know what to do because I’d be the same if I was you.”
Fistfight at Ocean Beach is a rough and sloppy concert document of the Reducers at their most down-to-rock pubbiest. For an American band more than 20 years after the fact, these guys really understand the subtle but substantial differences between bar band and its English counterpart, and their loyalties are most definitely not with the colonies. Opening with a snarly rendition of Ducks Deluxe’s “Don’t Mind Rockin’ Tonite,” the foursome runs downs a stack of its own tunes and makes such choice borrowings as Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1’s a Winner” and the Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait” sound as if they actually had something in common.
Old Cons, cover-illustrated with five pairs of grungey Chuck Taylors, is a nifty 25th-anniversary document of the band’s fandom and faith. The 14 songs, cleanly recorded at various gigs and rehearsals between 1981 and 2001, favor the late-’70s Stiff Records post-pub roster (drawing from Tenpole Tudor, Nick Lowe, Larry Wallis and Wreckless Eric) and lyrics about topics other than amour. But this snappy jukebox also digs back further, to the ’50s (Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk”) and ’60s (Chan Romero’s “Hippy Hippy Shake,” first popularized by the Swingin’ Bluejeans; Wilson Pickett’s “Ninety Nine and a Half [Won’t Do]”). Other than a clumsy and incongruous “Mack the Knife,” the Reducers do their forbears — and, in the process, themselves — proud with care, enthusiasm and empathy.