What attracted me to punk music thirty years ago was its total lack of pretension. It said what it had to in a raw, unadulterated way which drove the point of the songs with all the finesse of a jackhammer.
Since those early pioneering days, punk has become something of a fashion statement, and I find it amusing to see fifteen year old high school students with faux Mohawks, lip, nose, and tongue rings wearing ripped “Never Mind the Bullocks” t-shirts. It seems that punk has developed a sense of pretentiousness after all.
Nowhere is this pretentiousness more apparent than the October 2005 release from Propagandhi, Potemkin City Limits. So far is this album from the roots of punk, singer Glen Lambert strives to over-pronounce the lyrics in an effort to say “Hey, listen, this is really important!” Sadly, the material here really isn’t anything to get overly excited about, unless you are unaware that the United States is an imperial war machine bent on the destruction of all the things we humans cherish. Perhaps this isn’t news for old fart anarchists like me. But for the new teen punk fashionistas, it may be the message they’re just dying to hear.
Certainly punk was always about honing the message to a youth market. But I have to wonder if Propagandhi’s anti-war anthems are wasted on a group of youths more interested in appearing to be punk than actually living its squalid values. After all, what the youths of today know about punk they can find on television at almost any point in the day. Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” blares in the background of a cruise line commercial, and The Ramones are used to sell everything from soda to pre-paid cell phones. Considering how politically ambivalent most Americans are these days, it seems like Propagandhi’s efforts at fury are being shouted into a long and vacuous tunnel that absorbs the group’s sound rather than reverberate with its purpose.
There is a place for music that takes a political position, especially now. However, in order for punk music to foment the change it was created to bring the messages need to be direct, in your face, and sans vague metaphor giving a sense of artfulness to that message. While the genre is filled with tremendous examples of experimentation, Propagandhi sounds like they want to make a commercial reproduction of punk, joining two styles that are antecedents of each other. While that might please the poseurs, it does a disservice to the true essence of punk.
I suppose elements of every generation will try to impersonate the social movements that preceded them and there will always be bands like Propagandhi out there with their guitar cases open, ready to collect the cash from the trend followers. But it would be very refreshing during these times of anything-goes capitalism to hear these bands really commit themselves to the movement’s values they’re so willing to exploit.