I am about to make my annual pilgrimage to see the greatest punk band of them all – Stiff Little Fingers lest there be any doubt – and in 2022, when I saw them Jake Burns said this: “I love young bands coming up, and I love that some of them are drawing big crowds to watch them, but for Christ’s sake lads, sing about something that matters will you?”
I guess there’s two ways of looking at this. Like, we all know 2023 is a shit show (and its still arguably better than the three years that preceded it), and music provides an escape. Or you can say that it should reflect the world around it.
No prizes for guessing what Fake Names have done on “Expendables”. They’ve done what they’ve done on their other two releases, and crafted something stunning, but seething with anger at what the few have done to the many.
This is their first album with drummer Brendan Canty (he’s played with the likes of Fugazi and merely adds to the punk credibility of the band – which was off the scale anyway), but that’s not the only change here. They’ve enlisted producer Adam “Atom” Greenspan (IDLES, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and the sound is a little less “punk” and poppier than before, if you will. Maybe as a result of the last one being a set of demos that Epitaph label boss, Brett Gurewitz was desperate to release?
Whatever, “Targets” offers this question in its first verse: who makes the profit and who benefits from the scam? And we’re off.
There isn’t time to list all the bands that Brian Baker (guitar/vocals), Michael Hampton (guitar/vocals), Dennis Lyxzén (vocals), Johnny Temple (bass) have been in – Bad Religion, SOA, Refused, Minor Threat and Girls Against Boys should be enough and put aside all that experience, what matters is they are in Fake Names now.
And Fake Names have a title track with harmony guitars and sugar sweet harmony backing vocals, but with as healthy a dose of nihilism as you’ll find anywhere: “we’re nothing but expendables”. Yet look deeper. Look at the last line: “that’s what they’re saying, but we know it isn’t true”.
Elsewhere there’s some stunning stuff. From the Undertones-ish garage punk of “Delete Myself”, or the fury of “Go” – the latter of which proves unequivocally that the heart of this band is the guitar work of Hampton and Baker.
It’s also true to say that no one here needs to do this. They are all doing it because they want to, and that gives this a freedom. “Don’t Blame Yourself” seems to brim with possibility for example, and the angry “Can’t Take It” surveys the social media age and concludes – as any right minded person surely must – “we’re getting dumber by the day”. The confusion with which Lyxzén sings the words is palpable.
FN are simply masters of sloganeering words in three minutes: “Damage is done, so close your eyes and pretend to be free” is a powerful chorus on “Damage Is Done”, and “Madtown” has more than a flavour of The Stooges about it – saying that, although there’s plenty of influences to pick from here, this is an original and fresh take on things.
There’s even a change of page to something more “post-punk” (even if I am never too sure that means) for the wonderful “Caught In Between” which is a vehicle for the pulsing bass of Temple, before, “Too Little Too Late” offers “I know its getting dark my friend, and I know this feels a lot like the end” over something Buzzcocks flavoured. That this ends the album is a point not lost. There’s a shaft of light: It’s always darkest before the dawn, it says and maybe there will be something brighter coming, If not, there’s always this.
And, you can, if you wanted to, listen to “Expendables” just to hear some brilliant punk rock sounds. The question is why, when you can delve so much deeper to find so much more, would you want to? This music matters, and Jake Burns would approve.