There's something to be said for a big, influential rock label that refuses to confine itself to the status quo. And I'm not simply referring to the habit of most labels searching for the newest trend - I'm talking about a successful rock label that keeps pushing for that next level of quality.
For the time being, I suppose, Epitaph Records is still very much a punk label. For how long that remains, well, that remains to be seen. But here's a label in transition, one that weathered the temptation of cashing in on the pop-punk sensation by balancing out what offerings it did put out on the market (Motion City Soundtrack, Matchbook Romance) with a fistful of quality that perhaps no one faithful to paying attention to this label could have possibly seen coming straight at them.
(That is, of course, unless one was so faithful as to pay attention to Epitaph's sublabels Anti and Fat Possum where Buju Banton, Tom Waits, Merle Haggard, The Black Keys and Tricky have pushed the label's vision a lot more blatantly than their excellent groundbreaking divisions Burning Heart and Hell-Cat have done for the punk sound.)
On the traditional sampling of their current mindset, Punk-O-Rama 8 is excellent with the no bullshit punk it offers up (The Distillers exciting "I Am A Revenant," prime Rancid revisited on "As Wicked," NoFX' "The Idiots Are Taking Over," Tiger Army's thickly atmospheric "Incorporeal,") and those are perfectly in-tune with what many expect from this source.
However, with Epitaph's increasing jones for the Swedish power of revisiting punk's early MC5 and The Clash glory days, the sensations that are Randy, The (International) Noise Conspiracy (especially!), Division of Laura Lee and Turbonegro (Norwegian kin to the outrageously decadent rock throne but represented by Sweden's currently incomparable Burning Heart label,) all find themselves at the top of their games on the tracks representing them here.
Not surprisingly, the tracks from these sweet Swede rockers are easily among the very best of a very damn good compilation.
But then there's quite a bit more of the pure rock'n'roll spirit to be found throughout Punk-O-Rama 8. Arguably expanding the definitions of contemporary punk, London's Ikara Colt and America's Hot Water Music and Dropkick Murphys add intelligent pop, intelligent progression and intelligent melding of classic rock with Boston Celtic grit, respectively.
Hell, even if all of the above is acceptable in the normal parameters of punk love, easily being mentioned in the same breath of other Epitaph talent pools Bad Religion and US Bombs or incendiary hardcore aggressors F-Minus, Death By Stereo and Transplants sole destructive creation on "Quick Death," then where do the real surprises of this collection fit in?
Where does one begin to justify the wildly knowledgeable protests of hip-hop great Sage Francis, Atmosphere's get-em-going hip-hop on "Bird Sings Why The Caged I Knows," Epitaph founder and Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz' wicked industrial remix of Transplants "Quick Death" and The Black Keys stellar blues-rock grit fitting into this scenario?
Well, who says it needs to be justified?
Perhaps by pure punk standards, Epitaph is moving on from such a clear definition. And that's not a bad thing especially considering how fucking good the majority of this compilation comes off sounding.
However, in the pure spirit of punk embracing freshness, revolution, diversity and, above all else, amazing sounds that are meant to jar you emotionally, intellectually and physically, perhaps Epitaph is defining itself as the smartest punk around.
To these ears, it definitely sounds that way!