Punk cred was once good for a favorable write-up in Flipside, the adoration of scenesters — and just about nothing else. Come the ’90s and a couple of breakthrough bands and, all of a sudden, a résumé with genuine indie-core experience is the major-label A&R equivalent of a Harvard MBA. Wool’s pedigree comes from brothers Peter (vocals/guitar) and Franz (guitar/vocals) Stahl, who formerly led Scream, the Washington DC band that could claim the indulgence of Dischord Records and the end-time membership of future Nirvana/Foo Fighters star Dave Grohl.
The six-song Budspawn is a friendly little noise monster, with lots of bellowing vocals, crashing guitar power and explosive rhythmic contortions — as well as a working knowledge of dynamics and a melodic underpinning that shapes and justifies the torrid aggression. If that still leaves the eight-minute sonic dare of “EFF” unwarranted, the hooky chorus of “Slightly Under” makes up for it.
The arrival of former Drive Like Jehu drummer Chris Bratton upped the quartet’s cool factor one more notch, but weird production (the second Van Halen album would seem to be a significant model) and an ungainly stab at MTV presentability makes the de-punked Box Set a dreadfully uneven — and occasionally dreadful — album. For every tuneful pop incision like “B-350” or “Chances Are,” there’s a lump of numbskullery like “Superman Is Dead” (“Now that Superman is dead/Who will kick ass”-gee guys, I dunno, but if you’re that worried…) or a dubious goof like covering “God Rest His Soul,” Steve Alaimo’s moldy tribute to Martin Luther King (“Memphis battleground was red/Blood came pouring from his head”). Likewise, a few impressive guitar exhibitions — Franz Stahl’s snazzy solo in “Coalinga,” the brothers’ burnout noise fiesta in the twelve-minute “Take a Look” — are balanced by the obvious “Public Image” clip in “Blackeye” and the generic Big Rock sound elsewhere. Even the bright packaging concept — the mock-retrospective liner notes purport to detail the band’s lengthy career — is a half-baked idea that trips over itself. (The vinyl edition on Bong Load includes a three-song bonus single.)
Franz Stahl joined Foo Fighters, replacing Pat Smear, in 1997.