Nearly four decades ago, Descendents were the band that taught hardcore bruisers that punk could be short and (sort of) sweet with sub-one-minute ragers complaining about parents and praising their favorite foods. Although they’ve broken up and re-formed several times over the years – with band members concentrating on euphonious and euphoric pop-punk crew All when head Descendent Dr. Milo Aukerman works as a biochemist researching crop traits – not much seems to have changed.
Hypercaffium Spazzinate, the group’s first LP in a dozen years and seventh overall, still finds Aukerman yelping about hamburgers, chicken pot pies and chorizo, though as he sings in “No More Fat,” he’s not allowed to eat them anymore. They still make fun of jock-assholes, as they did on decades ago on “I’m Not a Loser” (see “Testosterone”), and “On Paper,” the record’s catchiest song, sarcastically lampoons a loser with a great C.V. Now, though, instead of bitching about mom and dad, the band members – all over 50 – are singing about growing old, dissatisfied and dispassionate (just like their parents!): “We can’t live like this anymore/Can’t live without love,” Aukerman sings on “Without Love,” and, more crushing, “What I wouldn’t give to see you smile once in a while,” on “Smile.”
The most surprising thing about the record is just how blatantly a group that once skewered conformity in songs like “Suburban Home” brashly embraces nostalgia. “Full Circle” tells the story of L.A. punk with not-so-subtle references to X, the Germs, Fear, the Adolescents, among others, and a hook brazenly (or more likely lovingly) ripped note-for-note from Black Flag’s “Room 13.” The record even closes with the cloying “Beyond the Music,” a little over two minutes’ worth of corny pop-punk autobiography about how “we didn’t know this would last forever.”
The saving grace is that they’re still able to write and play songs that tap into the teenage feeling that drove them. The melodies are strong, the musicianship is still leagues beyond their peers (Karl Alvarez’s approach to “lead bass” remains unparalleled) and they still have an innate sense of when to end a song before it drags on too long. They’ve barely lost a step since Milo went to college.