My first exposure to the political punk rock group Good Riddance came as a high schooler in 1995 via their debut album For God and Country. God was a fiery thunderbolt of an album; I listened to it often, and as a result it secured for itself a permanent place in my teenaged brain. Certain songs from it still echo somewhere in my skull today. In particular, I cannot watch a political debate or enter a voting booth without humming the closing refrain from "October:" "My October, my America, we're running out of time..."
Follow-up releases came and went, unheard by me. I'd hear a song every now and then and think, "Why haven't I kept up with these guys?" - a thought upon which I never made good. So here we are 11 years later, and Good Riddance has yet another salvo to fire, this one entitled My Republic. Turns out they're not the angry young band that I remember from '95 anymore, and the big difference is melody. The ferocity they once possessed has been tempered by time and rhythm, for better and worse.
Then again, it's not like they've flipped completely and turned into Dashboard Confessional - Good Riddance is still a forceful punk outfit. The guitar work by Luke Pabich is appropriately slashing and violent, Chuck Platt's bass playing is solid, and Sean Sellers pounds out some hefty slabs of machine-gun thunder on his drum kit. The songs on My Republic, even the mid-tempo ones, have a driving intensity about them that match the urgency of singer Russ Rankin's politically-motivated lyrics. These guys can play, no doubt about it.
It's Rankin's vocals, interestingly enough, that point the way towards how the band has evolved. The grit and gravel in his voice that I remember from so long ago have vanished; these days, he's wielding a smoother, more traditional punk-rock shout/croon. (Traces of Bad Religion's Greg Graffin and NOFX's Fat Mike show up in his singing style.) The gruffness has similarly slipped out of the music behind him. Good Riddance is rocking a slicker style of politipunk, and the production and mixing clean it up further. While they can still bring the speedy muscle when they want to, as in the back-to-back wallop of "Tell Me Why" and "Torches and Tragedies," I can't ever see them whipping chaos as potent as, say, "All Fall Down."