The West Coast punk icons return with heavy, hummable tunes on first album in 12 years

On their first album in a dozen years, seminal West Coast punk band The Descendents address a nation full of nut cases. It’s a land full of apathetic citizens with depressed friends who feed their kids drugs to fight their A.D.D. and take steroids to feel manly. To sate the pain, they pine for burgers and fries, which they can’t eat because their veins are clogged enough to cause a coronary.

You might get bummed out if the songs weren’t so catchy or the lyrical point of view so gleefully withering. It helps that the songs couldn’t be more terse. As on the Descendents’ previous six albums, no track lingers much beyond three-and-a-half minutes; some wrap up after less than sixty seconds. The Descendents, who started in 1977, nicked their brevity from The Ramones. But they didn’t nail their sound until singer-writer Milo Aukerman joined three years later. The style they established, which tempered punk with fine pop tunes, had a profound effect on later West Coast pop-punk bands, from the bad (blink-182) to the great (Green Day). Over the last two decades, the Descendents have taken long breaks, in part so Aukerman could pursue a career in biochemistry. Their last three albums have been generously spaced apart by nine, eight and now 12 years, respectively.

Their last hiatus made the heart grow especially fond for the new album. The songs prove, yet again, that the Descendents’ best cuts fully transcend their genre. They may be punk in speed, but it’s not their velocity that makes them lovable. It’s their tunes. You could re-arrange some of these songs as pop ballads, or even Broadway novelty numbers, and they’d work just as well. “Without Love,” for one, has one of the best power pop melodies of the year. And while Aukerman’s perspective has certainly matured from his early odes to flatulence and caffeine, the 53-year-old still has a spunky soul. At the same time, he’s capable of unashamed sentimentality. The album ends with “Beyond The Music,” an ode to the power of song that’s so sincere, it could reduce even the band’s toughest fans to tears.

Key Tracks

“On Paper”

A satirical character study of a charmless jerk.

“No Fat Burger”

Perhaps the catchiest song ever written about cholesterol.