We Are All We Have
I’ve always considered The Casualties as an odd addition to Side One Dummy Records. While it’s true the label is traditionally a home for punk, it has in recent years defined itself as a specialty label. From the Gaslight Anthem’s Springsteen influence, to Fake Problems and Check Ragan’s fantastic folk-punk outings and Gogol Bordello’s gypsy musings. In addition to being pretty original, thanks to some slick production values they all have a certain approachability. Meanwhile, The Casualties are a straight up street-punk group with 80’s hardcore overtones. They feel like Side One’s attempt at bringing street punk to the masses and competing with labels like Hellcat by responding to bands like Rancid or Left Alone. Whatever the case, the marriage feels forced, and it shows on The Casualties latest release, We Are All We Have.
As always, The Casualties features vocalist George Herrera, who emulates a crusty 80’s hardcore sounds much like contemporaries the Star Fucking Hipsters. His voice is well suited for The Casualties’ relentless, raw, aggressive politically charged punk. In simple tracks like “Apocalypse Today” and “heart Bleeds Black” the combination feels intuitive. But the band likes glossing up other songs despite Herrera’s natural fit. The result is “bigger,” more anthemic compositions – the type commonly found in Bostonian acts like The Dropkick Murphys. Typically I love larger than life, sing along choruses, but considering their history, it feels unnatural when the Casualties do it. They feel as if they are stylistically stuck at a crossroads, unsure exactly who to align themselves with – unable to commit either way. For a band that’s been around for seventeen years, I guess it’s about time The Casualties had an identity crisis.
On their previous album, 2006’s Under Attack, the band attempted to expand their sound by drawing upon reggae and dub. It felt reasonable but entirely unremarkable. The band continues their foray into the reggae world with two, still marginal efforts. The worst offender is “Rockers Reggae (Working Mans Dub),” which although has a rock steady and casual vibe beneath Herrera’s crusty screams, drags on forever. The song closes the album with essentially eight minutes of Hererra repeating “working man’s dub, working man’s dub, working man’s dub, working man’s dub…” It’s tiresome, monotonous, and drags the album past the forty minute mark – a big no-no for thrashy street-punk unless the band has some grand aspiration – which We Are All We Have certainly doesn’t have.
Maybe I’m being a little overly harsh. But when a band is good at doing something and they try changing just for the sake of change, it ticks me off. It would be as if The Gaslight Anthem decided to throw in some electronic dance beats to “get with the times.” It just wouldn’t feel right. We Are All We Have isn’t as bad as I’ve made it out to be. In fact, it’s more than listenable, and features a lot of really memorable moments – check out title track and you’re sure to have a good time. Casualties fans will likely still enjoy themselves, but I just can’t help shake the feeling that The Casualties are trying to be something they aren’t. In their stronger albums, like 2004’s On the Front Line, the band doesn’t try to do anything fancy, and the result feels right. The Casualties originally arose to keep 80’s street punk alive and true to itself, but as of 2009 the band seems to have lost its way – either move on or stick with what you know guys. Here’s to hoping they figure themselves out for their next release.