Zero Boys – “Vicious Circle”

My company has this bonus program where you can earn “points” for various things – meeting certain goals, participating in projects, that kind of stuff – and these points can be saved up and use to buy items out of a catalog.  Now that may sound kind of lame, but my current iPod came to me via this program (i.e. it was free), and I have a number of other nice pieces of schwag to show for my points.

It turns out that in a dark corner of the online catalog you can also buy books, movies, and music.  And yes, even vinyl!  Admittedly the selection isn’t heavily weighted towards stuff I’m interested in, but I surfed the list the other day and found a gem – a re-release of the Zero Boys 1981 punk masterpiece Vicious Circle.  I had points to burn (20 points, if you must know), and all of a week later it showed up in my mailbox.  Free.  Thank you very much.

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I only picked up my first Zero Boys record a month ago, the re-release of History Of, and there is very little cross-over between the two albums with only “New Generation” and the band’s unofficial anthem “Livin’ In The 80s” appearing on both.  Not that there wouldn’t be room, because this 2009 version of Vicious Circle has 16 songs but is only 27 minutes long… and that’s with the addition of “Slam And Worm” and “She Said Goodbye,” which don’t appear on the 1981 original and account for four minutes of the run time.  The Zero Boys get in, and get out.  Fast.

Side A is early hardcore – it retains sort of the old school punk sneering and sound, but it’s played super fast.  Only “Livin’ In The 80s” breaks the mold of the speed fest on side A, and none of the songs are faster or cooler than “Amphetamine Addiction,” undoubtedly my favorite tune.  But there are other solid efforts here as well, like the Ramones-esque “New Generation,” the D.O.A.-like “Drug Free Youth,” and the Rolling Stones sounding “She Said Goodbye.”

(TANGENT ALERT!  I’ve been racking my brain for hours trying to figure out what “Livin’ In The 80s” reminds me of.  The song is undoubtedly the slowest on the album, more of a psych rocker.  And then it hit me.  The vocals sound just like Spinal Tap’s David St. Hubbins on “Gimme Some Money.”  Which is, of course, preposterous.  But also true.  And I’m glad I won’t be going to bed with that question bouncing around in my brain.)

Vicious Circle is top notch early hardcore, and if you’re a punk fan it’s a must-have for your collection.

Zero Boys – “History Of”

Man, it feels like forever since I posted something on the blog.  Yet it’s only been about five days or so.  There is a certain obsession that comes along with writing for me, and when I don’t do it, I somehow feel like something’s missing.  Sometimes I can replace it with reading… but these days it’s hard for me to even to listen to music without thinking about how I’d write about it, and even reading makes me want to write.  Which is of course part of the reason for the volume knob.  Because sometimes you need to crank it up to 11 so you can shut out everything else and just listen to the music.

History Of caught my eye the other day as I was leaving the vinyl section over at Easy Street Records.  Early punk?  Check.  Vinyl?  Check.  Decent price?  Check.  Download codes included?  Yup.  Into the stack it went.

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The Zero Boys came out of Indiana at the end of the 1970s, and History Of is about half of the recorded output of the original band (the balance being found on Vicious Circle).  Originally coming out on cassette in 1984, my version is the 2009 vinyl re-release.  In an interview singer Paul Mayhem talked about how his mind was blown when punk records first made their way to his part of the country, how he and his friend would take a 30 minute bus ride to get to the one store that carried these exotic records from the UK and New York, and how seeing the Sex Pistols on a magazine cover was basically terrifying.  Holy crap, look at these guys!  They look hard and crazy!  I want to do that!  And it didn’t take long before the Zero Boys were born and playing local shows.

I sometimes wonder if the internet and the ever-increasing graphicness of film has totally numbed us to being shocked by something as seemingly mundane as an album or magazine cover.  Can an experience like Mayhem’s even happen today?  That’s not to say that band’s images weren’t carefully crafted then just as they are today.  But before MTV your entire exposure to a band might be a handful of photos and posters.  How many kids sat in their rooms, in the middle of nowhere, and were totally staggered by just the idea of the Sex Pistols or David Bowie or the Plasmatics without ever having heard them or even seen more than a couple of pictures of them?  You might have had one 7″ and a couple of photos you cut out of Creem or Hit Parader to go on, and that was it.  I can remember being terrified by the cover of Dio’s Holy Diver, so much so that I never bought it.  It seems almost quaint now.

But back to Zero Boys.  History Of is an impressive album, one that mixes different styles of punk.  There’s plenty of early hardcore here, including the great opening track “Drive In.”  But there’s also rockabilly-garage on the classic “Livin’ in the 80s,” bare-bones proto-punk on “Stoned to Death” and “Stick to Your Guns,” the heavy duty Black Flag-ish “Inergy,” and even pop-punk with “Splish Splash.”  The variety makes for a fun listening experience as you find yourself thinking “hmm, I wonder what the next one will sound like…”

Regardless of the style, the record’s 19 tracks are tight as hell, almost all of them shorter than three minutes, so even if you don’t like the one that’s on you only need to give it a couple of minutes before you get to something at least a little different.  If nothing else, check ’em out on iTunes where you can get the whole album for less than ten bucks if you like what you hear.