One of my biggest complaints with punk rock is that it has generally gone soft in the last decade. I understand that life happens, but is anything wrong with keeping up your aggression?
Danish descendent and Rancid singer/guitarist Lars Frederiksen is one of the few who has the potential to save the genre, not only because he strives to maintain a genuine punk image, but also because his brand of rock sustains a particular level of intensity that many supposed punk bands have lacked for years. So it saddens me to say that with his sophomore solo album, Viking, even he appears to be heading toward midlife crisis.
Featuring the work of several well-known musicians (Rancid band mate Tim Armstrong's production, Brett Gurewitz's mixing, and a special appearance by Transplants rapper "Skinhead Rob" Aston on "Switchblade"), Frederiksen appears to have compiled a winning cast for a well-performed show. After opener "Bastards" comes one of the album's most concrete songs, "Skins, Punx and Drunx," which contains an impossibly fast guitar riff by Frederiksen and an equally unyielding verse-chorus-verse arrangement. Interestingly enough, though, the key to the album's success lies in the separation, or lack thereof, between the first two songs. Within the limits of the first four tracks, Viking is one of the hardest, most solid punk-rock records made over the last few years (not considering hardcore), and that there is essentially no space between songs makes each piece flow perfectly after the other.
But then there is "Switchblade," which is about the untimely death of Frederiksen's older brother Robert. What troubles me is that the song eases Frederiksen into the album's stage of mediocrity. Lines like, "I told you we were crazy/ I told you we were bold/ With my switchblade at my side/ well, my crew's untouchable," could cause listeners to dismiss Frederiksen as another aging rocker attempting to pass as an authentic street punk.
The entire album takes on a bit of that vibe, forcing the talented Frederiksen to seem as though he's trying too hard to maintain an intimidating image. Other than the genuinely hard album openers, the highlight of the album's latter portion is Frederiksen's vocal collaboration with Tim Armstrong, the subtly-Irish "My Life to Live." What makes this song better than the others? It flows out of the pair naturally; there's not a hint of force in it. Were the entire album this genuine-sounding, regardless of intensity, Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards would have one hell of a sophomore album on their hands.
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