It's pretty easy to tell a band that's not interested in messing around from one that wants to twaddle around on the scene and put stars in the eyes of easily impressed adolescents. Just ask them to describe their music. The party punks, scenesters and other lightweight outfits will reply "punk" -- a set-in-concrete mindset for a part of a scene more interested on maintaining 25-year-old stereotypes and credibility than pursuing something a little more elusive, a little more abstract, a little more idealistic. Bands who aren't going to take prisoners, no matter how much they fit the punk sound, will simply leave their self-analysis at "rock." No messy ties to an often shallow scene mentality, no allegiance to a style that too often stagnates.
The Beatsteaks are certainly a band cut from the latter kind of cloth. While there'd be no problem in describing Living Targets as a punk album (it's a pretty sharp representation of the style), it also ties the act to any number of sonic blueprints that, quite frankly, it doesn't conform to. Living Targets isn't the next installment of garage-punk imports, a tribute to the zillions of Bad Religion clones, a hokey blast of giant hairdos and studded leather of UK82 or any of the melodic descendants of pop punk. Sure, it's got a bit of all those in there, save the goofy mess of British leather punks, but where Living Targets really works is when it cuts loose of expectations and just rocks.
And how it rocks! While just about every jokester with a Les Paul who can't scrape up the money to do his laundry has taken it upon himself to revitalize punk rock with a barrage of crusty riffs, denim jackets and unintentional hilarity, Beatsteaks prove that straightforward punk is still a viable option in this day and age. Although Living Targets features high-strung grit that pushes it out of the ear-candy world of bands such as Face to Face, Bad Religion and No Use for a Name, there are enough pop hooks to counter its rock gristle. Whether the band matches from-the-street, dirty guitars with an ear for anthemic hooks that delivers every bit of rock'n'roll, decadence and idealism that the class of '77 promised us ("God Knows"), or lets a moody, midpaced chunk of punk minimalism explode into enveloping guitar fury ("To Be Strong"), Beatsteaks make the sort of punk rock that breaks the rules without stomping on tradition.
Jaded indie kids: Punk hasn't been killed by Radiohead, Bjork, Wilco or any of those other high-falootin' bands. It's just been hiding -- hiding in The Beatsteaks' back pocket.
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