Punk O Rama: Volume 2 – Retro CD Review

The second entry in the now well-known catalog of various artist compilations by Epitaph Records, Volume 2 was released in December of 1996. It is now considered one of the better punk compilations in existence. I will rate it track by track, since there are so many artists involved that it would be a crime to lump any of the efforts together.

The album starts with “Coffee Mug” by Descendents, a thirty-four second piece of perfection that was originally released on their reunion album Everything Sucks. All you need to know is that the band, ALL, was obviously not having much success, having gone through a chain of mediocre singers and poor material after Dave Smalley left, and Milo had finished college by this point, so what else was left for them but to put together another Descendents album? The end result was little slices of genius such as the one experienced here. I rate it a nine and a half.

Pennywise’s “Perfect People” is second on the disc, and it is an excellent anthem for all those skater kids who look exactly alike and talk and act exactly alike but want to be different from the “cool crowd”. It really is a well executed skater punk song that unfortunately doesn’t really impress me with its sentiments when I look at how unique the “different” kids really aren’t. This track was previously released on their album About Time. They always sound to me like a Bad Religion rip-off, but they nailed an original sound here on a hypocritical song. I will give it a solid seven.

“Cashed In”, by Pulley, is the third song. It is yet another crybaby song about people “selling out”, whatever that means. It’s an okay song, but I have trouble with the sentiment of some musicians who like to pretend that if they have no interest whatsoever in making it in the music industry, that they somehow have more moral fiber than those who actually want to. Everyone who gets into making music and playing for people does it for the recognition and hopes to be able to quit their day job. Get over it. This is yet another from the skate punk mold. It sounds a lot like many of the others out there. It was previously released, but you don’t really care what the name of the album was. It rates a six, if that.

For track number four we have Me First And The Gimme Gimmes. They cover Billy Joel’s “Only The Good Die Young”, and man, this is one of the best covers I have ever heard. It mentions sodomy, and it outdoes the original! The original release was a B-side on a 7” record called “Billy”. I think Pittsburgh Pirates fans are douchebags for having booed these guys offstage on the Fourth of July a few years ago. This song rates a nine!

“Mutate With Me” by The Humpers is number five. I giggled internally when I typed their name, The Humpers. “Mutate” was a planned release at the time that Vol. 2 was released, for a 1997 album called Plastique Valentine. The Humpers have a great concept of old-fashioned rock/punk rock and they are singing about mutation while applying gold ol’ Army brand slogans to it (“Be all we can be”). This song rates a solid seven and a half.

“Sidekick” by Rancid is number six, and it was released on their album Let’s Go. This song was the track just before the song (“Salvation”) that got them national play on MTV, back when they still played music videos. The lyrics themselves are slightly juvenile, and the tune isn’t GREAT, but it is fairly good, and showcases the fact that this band was already tight as hell and was about to become one of the best known punk acts in the world, for good reason. Although it is far from their best work, it still rates seven.

“Bullion” is offering number seven. It is by the Swedish band Millencolin. Yet another skate-style punk band, they have a small hardcore-type influence that comes through in their songs, even in this one. It must be having hung out with the guys from Refused. This song comes from their previously released album Life On A Plate, and it is worth of mention. It rates a strong six.

Voodoo Glow Skulls have never been my favorite band; as a matter of fact, I consider them very hit-or-miss with their material. Nevertheless, “El Coo Cooi” is an EXCELLENT effort, which is track number eight on the CD. It has the frantic sound that I would expect from their lineup of horns, especially when you throw in the Spanish lyrics. I have no idea what he’s saying, but I want more of this one! It was culled from the album Firme. The song rates eight and a half on my scale!

“Hate” is a pretty strong word, even when listed as track nine from The Joykiller. This “Hate”, however, is a strong representation of simple, straightforward punk rock, The old kind that doesn’t exist anymore. The song was previously released on the album Static. The piano element in the back in the transition from the bridge to the third chorus is phenomenal, even if it is played horribly. This tasty treat has earned an eight (since it rhymes with hate).

Any song that talks about wanting to fuck the dead is pretty horrible. T.S.O.L.’s “Code Blue” at track ten is no exception. There are not really any redeeming qualities about this song, which is a shame because a lot of their other material is effing GREAT…this song’s original release was in 1981 on the album Dance With Me and it rates about a three.

I certainly hope Didi wants Fat Mike to be shot in the face, because the intro to “Whatever Didi Wants” is that irritating. The guitar work on the eleventh track is excellent, but NOFX is just a really annoying, insipid waste of time as a whole. If you are a NOFX fan and you are reading this, then you won’t need the previous release information for the song, because you probably already have the album. If you are NOT a NOFX fan, please DO NOT buy THIS or ANY OTHER NOFX album. This song rated a three and a half, based solely on the guitars.

I remember when Dave Smalley fronted Dag Nasty and ALL; those were the good old days. Down By Law isn’t quite the same thing, but still fairly good. The chorus to “Gruesome Gary” actually swings, which is tough for a punk song. Track twelve was originally released on “All Scratched Up” and deserves a seven, but because Dave is singing, we’ll give it just that.

My roommate is constantly having poison ideas; that is, ideas to poison himself. The band Poison Idea, however, wrote the song “Just To Get Away”, which is what I wish I had done in relation to the stereo when I popped on track thirteen. This song qualifies more as hard rock with mediocre guitar playing. Apparently, Epitaph had seen a “need in the market” for a reissue of Poison Idea’s 1990 album Feel The Darkness. If anyone else tells you that this song deserves better than a four, I would recommend that you find out the name of his brain surgeon.

DFL contributed “Thought Control” to this compilation, and I wish they hadn’t. My roommate says they sound like if Run DMC and ICP had a punk baby, and then aborted it. These are the guys that someone should hire a guard to make sure that they never touch anything remotely resembling a musical instrument EVER AGAIN. Do I HAVE to rate this? It’s a good thing this song was otherwise unreleased.

I love SNFU, because they brought to the table a smorgasbord of music concerning mad cow disease, and they talk about peas and carrots. Any band who can write an anti-meat song while being meat-eaters is welcome to my table any day of the week. Plus, they put the cow moos at the start of the song. From the album FYULABA, this song rates eight.

Bad Religion is, and has been, the staple of the stable of Epitaph Record label. All the California punk bands at one point or another aspire to be them, as is evidenced by some of the previous tracks on this disc. They ARE the classic California punk band of the modern day. “I Give You Nothing” is track sixteen on the CD, and it comes from their classic album Suffer. It is not one of their all-time greats, but it is a solid tune and showcases Greg’s lyrical fluidity. Seven is the rating for this song.

The final track is “Jukebox Lean” by New Bomb Turks, who are a great four-piece garage rock & roll band with an excellent tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. “Juke Box Lean” comes from their album Scared Straight. I personally dig these guys thoroughly. I recommend quite a bit of their material. I will slip a nine in to their slot.

Art and Illustration are listed credited to Nick Rubenstein and Tommy Lee Edwards, respectively. The cover design has the now-famous picture of the Epitaph monster “E”-head wearing a kilt and motorcycle boots while peeing against a wall. This is drawn by Edwards. This one sticks with you.