When Epitaph spewed out the debut Punk-O-Rama at the end of 1994, the average age of today’s Epitaph fans was about nine, give or take a few years. Eight volumes later, this tradition of releasing a “punk-rock” compilation of Epitaph/Hellcat bands has gotten stale, something label heads must have realized as they unleashed the marketing scheme from hell for Punk-O-Rama, Vol. 8. It’s a double-disc CD set with a wide assortment of sounds, from well-known punk names to an exploration in the indie music world, and though the compilation carries the same name, Vol. 8 has a little different flavor than its previously released cousins.
The need for something new for this well-known comp is achieved by putting Punk-O-Rama classics Rancid, Bad Religion, Dropkick Murphy’s and Bouncing Souls alongside a couple newcomers, like Motion City Soundtrack and, in the largest divergence from its Punk-O-Rama ancestors, hip-hop/indie artists Sage Francis and Atmosphere. And though it may be a little much shoved in your face at one shot, it’s refreshing that Epitaph isn’t simply recycling prototypical sounds and themes in Vol. 8.
Since Epitaph retains the ability to weed out the best singles from each of their bands, there are good tracks. “I Am a Revenant” by the Distillers displays Brody Armstrong’s passionate voice, an appealing counterpart to husband Tim Armstrong’s sloppy slur. Raised Fist’s “Get This Right!” is a perfect display of pounding hardcore on speed.
But it’s not the NOFX or Guttermouth tracks that make Vol. 8 special. The most surprising element on the comp, the inclusion of underground slam poet Sage Francis, proves to be the most interesting and redeeming quality of the album. In “Makeshift Patriot,” Sage Francis delves into his opinions about one-sided media and the rise of unquestioning patriotism that exploded after Sept. 11, based around the chorus: “Makeshift patriot, the flag shop is out of stock, I hang myself at half-mast.”
Unfortunately, the good tracks are too far between the countless pop-punk/emo sounds that “punk” has become. The Matchbook Romance track, “The Greatest Fall (Of All Time),” is set to a nice, pleasant, parent-friendly beat while the vocals easily beat out the whine of the brattiest 2-year-old child. And the whining goes on … the … whole … way through. While the other pop-punk bands, including Hot Water Music and Pulley, prove to be far less whiny than the Matchbook Romance, they out-number the classic Punk-O-Rama bands by far, making a fan of somewhat heavier Epitaph sounds skip through most of the album.
Even with the diversity of sounds here, the appeal of this album has changed from almost all of the previous Punk-O-Rama releases to one that hops on the pop-punk trend of Hot Topic suburbia. This Punk-O-Rama compilation is for fans of emo and the lighter, much lighter, varieties of punk. The people that bought the first, or even first couple, Punk-O-Rama comps will probably not want to stand in the neat, orderly line of today’s punk that is so nicely displayed on this album.