Thursday, May 05, 2011

Album Review: Here Under Protest

Title:  Here Under Protest (Official, Fat Wreck Chords, Amazon, iTunes, Interpunk 

It’s been eight years since the Swingin’ Utters released their last studio album, Dead Flowers, Bottles, Bluegrass and Bones.  Since that time long time guitarist Max Huber left the band, they recorded a live album, and got Jack Dalrymple of One Man Army and Dead To Me to join their ranks as the bands second guitarist.  And even though they weren’t releasing any new Swingin’ Utters material since 2003, they were far from stagnant.  Johnny Bonnel, Darius Koski, and Spike Slawson released two Filthy Thieving Bastards records; Spike released two Me First & the Gimme Gimme records (and recorded a record to be released later this year and released an album of songs recorded at the same time of the bands debut); Spike, Darius, and Jack released a fantastic Re-Volts EP; Johnny released a Druglords of the Avenues record; Jack joined, recorded one full length and one EP, and left Dead To Me; and Greg McEntee joined and released two EPs with Viva Hate.  Needless to say, the Utters have been busy. 

All of this brings us to Here Under Protest, which is an absolutely classic Swingin’ Utters album.  The songs range from gritty 77 style punk to folk inspired to poppy.  The Utters have always traded off vocal duties (mostly between Johnny and Darius but over the years Max and Spike have had their singing talents) and Here Under Protest is no different.  In fact my two favorite songs so far are the Spike sung “Kick It Over” (which was originally a Re-Volts song) and Jack sung “Effortless Amnesiac” (another song that was done by Re-Volts, but only live to my knowledge).  I was extremely excited to hear both of these songs on the record, especially Jack’s (I have sorely missed him in Dead To Me and was hoping that he would get to sing a song on this record).  The rest of the record is exactly what you’d expect from a Swingin’ Utters record – 14 classic songs without a dud in the bunch. 

I first heard the Swingin’ Utters in 1996 when Jim at Music Dimensions handed me a copy of their latest record A Juvenile Product of the Working Class.  Little did I know it that this record would have a huge influence on my life and turn me into a lifelong Swingin’ Utters fan.  Around that same time, Jim introduced me to the Dropkick Murphys, who I have also followed religiously since then.  I bring this up because both DKM and the Utters released new albums this year and thus I can’t help but compare them.  The Swingin’ Utters were a big influence on the Dropkick Murphys and while the band became great friends over the years, DKM has received more mainstream buzz and success.  I think this is mostly because of the Irish factor (even though the Utters were just as influenced by The Pogues, they never let that define them).  So while I enjoyed DKM’s latest effort Going Out of Style, it is a much slicker and radio friendly (or soundtrack friendly) than Here Under Protest.  I was talking about the new DKM record with Travis at Guestroom Records and his theory was that they were purposefully writing songs that sound and feel like “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” because that had been such a hit for them.  I hadn’t thought about it that way, but it makes sense.  In my review of Going Out In Style I stated “it’s like they have found their formula and their groove and now they are just riding that out.”  That is not at all the feeling I get from Here Under Protest.  These sound like honest songs written by working class guys who just love to play music.  I’m not saying that DKM are dishonest in any way mind you, just that their latest effort feels less than inspired. 

My only complaint about the record is that in some ways it feels like a collection of side projects.  This isn’t a bad thing mind you because all of the Swingin’ Utters side bands are really good and I maybe only get this feeling because I already knew two of the songs from those other projects and because I have followed said other projects so closely.  This is also a feeling that I suspect will go away with time because top to bottom, start to finish, this really is an outstanding record – easily one of the best of 2011.  I just hope they don’t make us wait another eight years for the next one.  And I also hope they make a stop in OKC at some point.  I’d love to see the Swingin’ Utters live at least once before I die.

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