CD Review of Virulence by Only Crime

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starstarstarno starno star Label: Fat Wreck Records
Released: 2007
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As supergroups go, Only Crime sure is a weird one. Usually supergroups are composed of predictable combinations that make sense. Audioslave combined the best band of the ‘90s (Rage against the Machine) with the best vocalist (Chris Cornell of Soundgarden). Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Steve Winwood were all young Brits who wanted to be old black guys – so Blind Faith was born. Velvet Revolver’s combination of former GNR members with STP’s Scott Weiland probably came out of several chance encounters at L.A. rehab centers.

The amalgamation of rockers that make up Only Crime is as unusual as the band’s sentence-fragment of a name. Their lead singer is Russ Rankin from the straight-edge punk band Good Riddance. Aaron Dalbec, their guitarist, comes from the hardcore outfit Converge, while their bass player is Doni Blair is from the early pop/punk group Hagfish. Bill Stevenson, their drummer, has been in about a billion different bands, the most notable being hardcore legends Black Flag, while guitarist Zach Blair made his name in, of all things, GWAR (he was also a member of Hagfish as well). With an oddball mix like that you’d expect Only Crime to be a hodgepodge of various punk sub-genres, and you’d be right.

On Only Crime’s sophomore record Virulence you hear everything from old-school punk revival to power-pop punk and back again, sometimes in the same song. The opener, “Take Me,” starts out as a fast-paced headknocker that you might hear at a Black Flag concert, but its chorus transforms it into a radio-friendly pop tune that would fit in on the soundtrack to the next “Not Another (fill in the blank) Movie.” The same peculiar pattern is evident throughout the album with tunes like “Everything for You” and “Now’s the Time” also trying the delicate balancing act to varying degrees of success.

Much of this probably has to do with Rankin’s clean and harmonic vocals; the boy’s voice just isn’t right for hardcore punk, and certainly doesn’t match the thrashing music behind it on most of the tracks. Oddly enough, he’s too good of a singer for this music. Hardcore punk isn’t always improved by someone who is what you would call a traditionally good singer. You want someone with a rough voice like Brody from the Distillers or someone who’s just downright annoying, like Jello Biafra. Rankin only goes completely out of his vocal comfort zone for one song, the 38-second “In Your Eyes,” which is an adrenalizing blast of punk and truly a slamdancer’s delight.

That’s not to say the rest of the album is bad; in fact Only Crime probably serves as the perfect band for kids today who are crossing over from the pop-punk of Blink-182 to the classic hardcore bands like Minor Threat, Bad Brains and Black Flag. Some of the tracks on Virulence, like “Eyes of the World” and “Too Loose,” are classic hardcore tracks at heart with just a little more polish. Other tracks on the album are just the opposite, sounding like pop-friendly radio hits that were roughed up by some skinheads. The band only really falters completely when they slow things down with the punk rock power ballad “This is Wretched.”

Ironically enough, the people that would really dig Only Crime are those who have never heard the members’ previous bands. If you grew up on Black Flag, or rocked out to straight-edge bands like Good Riddance, then Only Crime might only be of passing interest to you.

~James B. Eldred