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Music Review: Strung Out – Prototypes and Painkillers

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Californian punkers Strung Out have recently released a b-side and rarities CD full of material that spans their 18-year career as a hardworking, independent punk rock band.  The CD, titled Prototypes and Painkillers, is full of songs that are unreleased, not found on studio albums, or were previously out of print, making for a nice find for any Strung Out fan.  This is actually the band’s second compilation; the first was titled The Skinny Years… Before We Got Fat.

Released by Fat Wreck Chords, the new CD, according to drummer Jordan Burns, is “for the fans.” The cardboard foldout includes short descriptions of each song, and the band shares when they recorded each song and what album, if any, it was left off of.  The band also mentions that “over the last 18 years or so” they “recorded over 120 songs, many of which never saw a proper release.”  I guess it is safe to say this is now the proper release that these amazing songs belong on; now true fans of Strung Out need not search endlessly on the internet for these gems.

The songs are in no chronological order. “Don’t Look Back” starts off the CD.  The song was a limited edition 2001 recording that was included in the first 10,000 copies of An American Paradox, the band’s fourth release.  The song is sick, in a good way, with trademark Strung Out technical guitar work. 

The original recording of “Novacain” sounds to me better than the version found on the Fat Wreck Chords comp Live Fast, Die Young.  Catchy as hell, it is a good track many fans may not have heard before.  The song was actually supposed to be on the band’s 2000 EP The Element of Sonic Defiance but was instead contributed to Fat Wreck Chords, as they had asked for an exclusive track for their compilation.

The cover of the Descendants’ “I’m Not A Loser” is a great rendition. I had had no doubts that Strung Out could not hammer this classic punk song out.  Previously available on iTunes, “Novella” was a track that I feel should not have been left off the band’s recent release Blackhawks Over Los Angeles.  The song is a little heavier and a whole lot catchier than some other tracks on the CD.  The band mentions in the notes that it was a tough call keeping the track off the CD.

“This is definitely the most popular song we’ve never had on an album” they say in the notes for “Lost Motel.”  The song never made it onto An American Paradox but was released on the members only Fat Club 7”.  Having only heard this song live once, on the Live In a Dive CD, I can see why so many fans request it at the band's shows.  Without a doubt this track is one of my favorites on the entire CD.

Speaking of favorites, the cover of “Bark At The Moon”, an Ozzy Osbourne classic, blew me away.  Strung Out adds their own style and nails the song.  I always tell people I have heard a lot of bad covers, but this in no way will ever fall into that category.  If there is one track on this CD you need to listen to first, here it is.

You can tell how long ago “Sinner Or Coward” was recorded from the moment you start listening to it.  A bit of trivia about this song is that Rob Ramos played all the original instruments, including drums.  Jim Cherry, one-time bassist for Strung Out, also contributed a guitar solo.

Another track that was recorded for a Fat Wreck Chords compilation, “Your Worst Mistake,” appeared on Uncontrollable Fatulance.  Full of great guitar licks and solos, this is a killer track, with Jason Cruz singing his heart out.  The bonus track “More Than Words,” originally on Blackhawks Over Los Angeles, sounds a lot more punk-poppy than the other tracks.  It caught my ear in a good way and has endless singalong possibilities.

Strung Out says in their notes on “Wrong Side Of The Tracks” that Josh Freese (The Vandals, NIN, A Perfect Circle) charged the band a 12-pack of beer to fill in for an injured Jordan Burns on drums.  The song was recorded for a Fearless Records 7” and the band had no time to waste, hence they had asked Freese for help.  The drumming on this track is a lot more technical throughout, and the notes mention that Freese was actually stumped while trying to learning the opening drum beat. Just by listening to it I can understand why.

The acoustic version of “Velvet Alley” that was re-recorded for Punk Goes Acoustic is another track I really got into.  I have heard this version as well as the original found on An American Paradox, and while both versions are amazing, the acoustic take stands out more. 

Closing the disc is a demo from 1992, a few of which are included.  The first song entirely written by guitarist Jake Kiley, “Forever Is Today” is a track full of young punk rock ambition and sounds.  This track was, according to the band, never re-recorded or released until now.  As a Strung Out fan, I found it very satisfying to hear this track and see how far this band has come along.

The band, having wanted to create this rarities CD for quite some time, is actually in the process of recording its eighth studio album, following their 2007 release Blackhawks Over Los Angeles. Full of material I had forgotten about or simply not had the opportunity to hear until now, I have no complaints about this CD and think it is the perfect collection.  Prototypes and Painkillers should tide over any fan, old or new, until the next studio album.  It is filled with exceptional covers, alternative takes on prior hit tracks, and of course the material that never made it to a CD until now.

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