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Music Review: Operation Ivy – Energy

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Operation Ivy’s only full-length studio CD, Energy, is aptly named. Ever since it dropped in 1989 on Lookout! Records, it has been a driving influence in the ska and punk scenes. The band that spawned Rancid was short-lived, but completed the fusion of punk and ska that was started in the 80s.

The first thing that stuck out to me about Energy was its raw intensity, which is probably my favorite aspect of the CD. Songs like “Bombshell” and “Jaded” have probably been responsible for more broken noses than Mike Tyson. Part of what makes it so intense is their attitude. Operation Ivy fully exemplified the punk attitude of the 80s and the ska attitude that long preceded them. The combination created a new genre called ska-punk or ska-core. The sound is unique to say the least, although they may have to give some of their credit to the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

Something else that made this CD great was the way the band melded the two previously disparate styles of ska and punk rock. Few bands before them had tried to combine the traditionally relaxed rhythms of ska with the energy and attitude of punk. Certain songs like “Unity” and “Bad Town,” my personal favorite, blend the two styles very well. Surprisingly, cacophonous gang vocals and guitars strumming on the upbeat can sound good together.

As a bass player, I always like to listen to what the bass is doing in each song. Matt Freeman does a great job writing catchy bass lines. He is one of my favorite bass players for not only his work in Rancid, but on this CD as well. Songs like “Bombshell” and “Bad Town” make me admire his talent. Without Freeman Op Ivy would not be nearly as cool as they are.

Op Ivy’s CD is also catchy. There were plenty of hooks that snagged my attention. Songs like “Take Warning” and “Vulnerability,” an instrumental, drive this point home. Combining those catchy ska hooks with the energy and rawness of the punk rock mentality made me listen to this CD over and over.

While Op Ivy lacks a brass section, their ska influence can be easily heard. They really like to pull back and play relaxed tunes like “Take Warning” and “Unity.” They manage to stay true to ska roots and incorporate a saxophone into the song “Bad Town.” For those Rancid listeners out there, you can tell how Matt Freeman and Tim Armstrong, Op Ivy’s guitarist who would later become Rancid’s frontman, got their influences from.

There is not a boring song on this CD. While they kind of all sound the same, all of them are overflowing with energy and fun. Operation Ivy were still punk kids at this stage and it comes out in their attitudes, which are presented not only lyrically, but musically as well. It’s neat to get a feel for what formed the basis of the ska-core scene. This CD will be influential for years to come.

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