The U.S. Bombs really won me over with their previous album. It updated many of the sounds of early British punk yet sidestepped many of the ruts that revivalists fall into. The band's passion and genuine love of the genre took what should have been rather dated songs and made them seem fresh. This, combined with Duane Peters' guttural yet snotty vocals, gave it just the right balance between modern relevance and traditional style. While "Covert Action" doesn't channel the Sex Pistols as much as "Back At The Laundromat" does, it's still admirably steeped in `77 era guitar riffs and song structures.
There's a lineup change providing a boost of energy as well. Joining founding guitarist Kerry Martinez is Curt Gove of Les Stitches. New drummer Jamie Reidling locks in perfectly with long time bassist Wade Walston. "Covert Action" sees the U.S. Bombs branching out and adding more elements to their sound. While this is a major creative strength it paradoxically makes this album a less consistent listen than their last. The band adds upstroke guitar and a reggae backbeat to the ska-infused "The Gow," which gives the song's subject matter a unique sense of urgency. "American Made" is a blast of 80s hardcore that follows the album's most surprising moment, the Latin-styled instrumental "Faith Of Marie." This is one of those classically out of place songs that by all logic shouldn't work, yet adds such character the record. Aside from these detours, the band provides a good number of their staple rockers that bring to mind their "War Birth" era. The driving punk rock of "Roll Around," "Shot Down" and "In & Out" should more than please fans who've followed the band for years.
Peters takes on his familiar role of storyteller on "Covert Action." There's an admirable political angle to his lyrics where working class pride thankfully doesn't fall into the trap of nationalist posturing. From their very name to their cover art the band obviously takes pride in their country, yet this pride is based on a desire for a better deal and involves a heavy dose of criticism of the US government. This shines in the ridiculously nihilistic message of "John Gottie," where the group gleefully dismisses both major political parties in favour of a clone of the deceased mob boss.
A reader pointed out to me that I talk about this band a lot, and I suppose I do. I can't help but admire the fact that the U.S. Bombs throw such passion into their craft and succeed where so many of their contemporaries come up short.