Punk music has gone through an evolution ever since the punk explosion in the late seventies. Although today’s punk music retains most of the ideology and sound that defines the punk genre, there are some distinct differences between Nineties and Seventies punk. Most of the punk bands to emerge and gain popularity in the nineties mostly hailed from California (Green Day, the Offspring, etc. ). Punk vanguards from the seventies hailed from the East Coast and from Great Britain (the Ramones, the Clash, etc. ).
The Sex Pistols’ “Liar” and Blink182’s “What’s My Age Again? emonstrates how conditions social, political, and physical are reflected in the nature of the music produced by these punk bands. The Sex Pistols emerged in the late seventies as one of the first politically charged punk bands, advocating anarchy in most of their tunes. The band embraced and produced songs that reflected the punk ideology: rebellion and nihilism. The Sex Pistols also reacted to the stark social conditions that infected Great Britain in the late seventies – rising unemployment, a hard-line, conservative government, and a depressed post-industrial economy.
With a hopeless future at the horizon, the restless youth in Britain had plenty of things to get angry about. The Sex Pistols embodied the era’s anger and restless ambition. Blink182 first gained popularity as a local band from San Diego. The Southern California environment was completely different from the harsh, cold urban environment of London. The environment from where Blink182 cultivated their style was sunny and suburban San Diego. The mid-nineties were economically good in the United States. The youths of Southern California did not face the same despair as the youths of Britain in the seventies.
Moreover, Blink182 gained popularity by producing songs that reflected the “skater” and teen culture of Southern California. Their music is fun, carefree, rebellious, and filled with adolescent, bathroom humor. The harsh, dense noise that is the hallmark of every Sex Pistols song can be heard in “Liar. ” The distorted guitar is the centerpiece of most punk music. The guitarist, Steve Jones, plays with an incessant, down strumming of power chords, creating a “buzz saw” noise. The guitar is palm muted at the beginning and in the parts where there are no lyrics.
The technique creates and adds tension to the music. The full fury of the guitar is only unleashed at the interlude and when the vocals come in. In the interlude, the guitar wails were played to sound like sirens. The guitar solo had a hypnotic, cyclic riff in the interlude. The improvisational style and sound of the guitar adds to the seemingly chaotic sound of the song. The drums more prominently produce this chaotic sound. Although the drums are in a simple yet assertive two-beat pattern throughout most of the song, it is interrupted sporadically by drum rolls, helping to produce a chaotic sound.
The bass basically provides the rhythm and the framework of the song from which the drums and guitar can syncopate. The song is also somewhat muffled. The crude recording techniques was utilized to produce a more dense and harsher noise. The crudeness also adds a sense of amateurism to the song, one of the ideologies of punk. The harsh, discordant sound of the song is clearly evident in the vocal style. Johnny Rotten, the lead singer of the group, delivers a smug, confrontational attitude of punk. Rotten sings the lyrics with a whiny and sneering vocal quality, delivering the message with anger and twisted sarcasm.
In addition, he sings out of sync at times, adding to the chaotic sound already produced by the instruments. During the chorus, Rotten would scream and crack “You’re a liar. ” Rotten’s voice is just as harsh and grating as the distorted guitar. The vocal delivery of Rotten is produced that way to emphasize the raw energy and rage of the song. The lyrics are very confrontational and angry as it bluntly accuses someone of being a liar. “I wanna know why you never / Look me in the face / Broke a confidence just to please / Your ego should’ve realized / You know what I know.
Taken literally, the lyrics are about accusing the other person in an untrustworthy relationship of infidelity. Given the political nature of the band, the lyrics could also blatantly accuse the system – government, the monarchy, and society – of being a liar. The promise of a better tomorrow by the government and the pompous glory of the monarchy seemed shallow to the unemployed and the youth of Britain. It could have been the system that may have broken the confidence of the people. More importantly, the lyrics reflect the punk ideology of nihilism. The Sex Pistols are singing about rejecting lies and apologies.
Blink182’s “What’s My Age Again? ” offers a different delivery of punk music. The opening guitar riff of the song is light and melodic. The sound produced by the guitarist, Tom DeLonge, has little or no distortion with a reverb effect, almost sounding like bells and chimes. It doesn’t demonstrate the harsher sound of punk. The riff is also repeated at the interlude and at the closing segments of the song. This warm, melodic riff creates a light, carefree sound for the song, evoking the playful attitude of Southern California punk. The definitive sound of punk, the crunchy distorted guitar, is evident in most of the song.
The guitar is palm muted in the verses and the distorted power chords are showcased in the chorus. The palm muting technique creates tension and restraint during the verse, thus contrasting that tension with the intensity of the power chords in the chorus. The drums has a straight two-beat pattern, with the occasional drum rolling added at the chorus to create a more frenzied sound. In contrast to the drums heard in “Liar,” the drums in “What’s My Age Again? ” are given range to play softly on the cymbals during the verses and to play at full intensity during the chorus.
The vocal delivery of “What’s My Age Again? ” contrasts with the grating sound of Johnny Rotten. The vocal style of Blink182 bassist Mark Hoppus is mellow with a slight hint of sarcasm. Hoppus doesn’t shout or create a harsh sound to emphasize a point like Rotten. Hoppus’s style is not complicated either and demonstrates an amateur delivery, much like other punk music. Vocal harmony and call and response is also evident during the chorus and near the end of the song, with DeLonge backing Hoppus on some lines – an influence of the “doowop” style of the fifties.
The vocal harmony adds melody and levity to the song. This vocal delivery is another characteristic of the playful and fun attitude of Southern California punk and a distinction that separates it from the edgy British punk. The lyrics of “What’s My Age Again? ” follow the punk tradition of nihilism. The lyrics are also a celebration of immaturity and aloofness. “Nobody likes you when your 23 / And are still more amused by prank phone calls / What the hell is caller ID? / My friends say I should act my age / What’s my age again?
Sung in the mellow style of Hoppus, the aloofness and sarcasm are evident in the lyrics. The song rejects immaturity and advises that “No one should take themselves so seriously. ” The themes evoked in the song reflect the carefree and mellow attitude of Southern California while at the same time reflect the rebellious attitude of traditional punk. Moreover, the themes, along with the goofy sense of humor of the band, relate to the teen/pop culture that emphasizes music that is fun to listen to.
The punk revival in the Nineties retains the energy and freshness of Seventies punk. But as previously evidenced, the creative forces and inspiration that produced this music influenced and affected the message and sound of the songs. “Liar” is a song derived from the angry punk scene of Great Britain and “What’s My Age Again? ” reflects the warm, mellow attitude of Southern California. The distinctions end there. Those looking for the raw sound and power of punk music can find it in both Nineties and Seventies punk.