There have been numerous catchy claims Milo Aukerman has made throughout the Descendents 40-year career, though two of his most famous may be “I Like Food” and “I Don’t Want to Grow Up.” These are both themes the Cali-bred, but U.S.-scattered pop-punk group let resurface on Hypercaffium Spazzinate, their first full-length release in a dozen years. The famously coffee-addled band have brewed up a potent affair mostly on par with their classic work, but with its members all having crossed over into their fifties since their last release, it’s clear that the act have had to face some facts and make some changes.
“No Fat Burger” is a funny but furious look at how our metabolisms curse us with each passing year. A direct response to 1981’s “I Like Food,” from the Fat EP, it’s got the aging Aukerman admitting that he needs to cut the juicy burgers and greasy fries from his diet. His lipids count is off the chart, he’s inherited the family heart condition, and his “future’s not looking very bright.” Like that earlier track, it’s a high-calorie intake of palpitated punk beats and manic chord shifting. There’s a macabre edge to the this one, though, considering bassist Karl Alvarez suffered a heart attack in 2007. Drummer Bill Stevenson’s health scares over the last couple of years have included a pulmonary embolism and a brain tumor.
As it stands, Hypercaffium Spazzinate is a much healthier spread than 2004’s lukewarm Cool to Be You. While the latter was a fairly streamlined release, the latest round from the foursome is a diverse mix of sad-sack pop-punk and high bpm melodic hardcore. It also includes a pseudo-shout out to the Go-Gos via “We Got Defeat,” a tune that pays homage the surfy bass line of the 80s group’s “We Got the Beat,” while taking on a decidedly more negative world view.
“On Paper” takes the band’s self-deprecating attitude to new heights. The overly giddy arrangement sounds like a distorted Doublemint Gum jingle, above which wise-ass Aukerman notes how high test scores can’t mask a tragic face, or the fact that he’s got all the charm “of a murdering serial raper.” “Victim of Me” and “Fighting Myself” are another pair of self-bruisers, though Alvarez cushions the blows with his patented, busy bass bounce.
While the Descendents have managed to mix melancholy with self-mockery for the better part of their run, the formula isn’t as successful if you take one away from the other. Specifically, the “spurious adulterations” of the Bill Stevenson-penned “Spineless and Scarlet Red” is a depressing detour for the album. Substantially more uncomfortable than the longing, lovelorn losers described in back catalogue cuts like “I’m the One” or “Good Good Things,” its lyrics weigh in on the “dishonor and disgrace” of letting “intruders” enter a marital bed. It’s steeped in so much shame, and sinks Hypercaffium Spazzinate’s momentum.
“Without Love” is likewise defeated, as the band are unable to escape the mood of its hopeless outlook. And though “Smile” has Aukerman determined to flip a friend’s frown upside down (“all those grass-is-greener thoughts, I’m telling you, they’re killing you”), that track, too, buckles under the weight of bitterness and pain.
At 16 songs long, Hypercaffium Spazzinate crams in a lot of variety, for better or worse. But what strings them together, no matter what, is the fact that they were put together by the longest running lineup of the Descendents (a variation that has produced music off-and-on since 1986). While kind of cornball, “Beyond the Music” is a sweet look at the group’s friendship, and their many years of creating “frustrato-rock or chainsaw pop, or whatever it is we play.”
“This is our family, and it will always be this way,” bespectacled frontman Aukerman pledges on the punk cut. It’s clear that the Descendents have grown up a little, but the still-strong bonds between the bandmates make it clear that some things will never change.
-review by Gregory Adams