Pretty much any “punk” record released these days (or any days since the first wave in the late-’60s/early-’70s) could be labeled derivative. But that’s not always a bad thing, particularly when a clearly loves early punk, ’60s beat boom, and ’50s teenage rock ‘n’ roll trash and can funnel these loves into an entire, hook-filled album. The members of San Diego’s Heartaches have pounded every well-known punk/rock ‘n’ roll convention into the songs on their debut, Too Cool for School. And thank fuck they did: this is punk for the boots-(or old-school Vans)-and-jeans crowd, and it’ll have newcomers digging through indie record shops for old Saints records and Pebbles comps.
There’s great sing-along lines (“Tee Cee! Eff Ess! Sha na na na too cool for school” from “TCFS” and “Hanging out at the local drugstore/ I don’t wanna be sick no more no” from “Teenage Hypochondriac”) and the production from Mike Kamoo (the Strokes, the Loons) is ace-it’s live and visceral and there’s nothing slick about it. From the opening crack of the beer can, this album is a drunken stumble through the time-tested themes of teenage love/lust/heartbreak, goofy UFO and King Kong obsessions, and that fear of getting old. There’s something charming about a grown man singing, “There’s a girl from the neighborhood and I’m outta my head for her.”
Most of Too Cool for School is straight-ahead hundred-miles-an-hour punk, but standout “Built for Speed” is completely unlike the rest of the album. It’s dark and sludgy, oozing with grease and congealed motor oil. Billy D. William’s hiccup-inflected vocals give way to Iggy-esque snarls, clinging to the sadistic and gray-scaled underbelly of rock ‘n’ roll. Sometimes slowing it down is just as effective as speeding it up.