Lars Frederikson and the Bastards - Viking
Those of a nervous disposition ought to steer well clear of this album. It's a violent, aggressive affair and you'd expect nothing else given that Tim Robinson and Lars himself are, of course, members of American punks, Rancid, who aren't exactly renowned for their subtlety. This is a side project set up by Tim that consists of songs about Lars' life and upbringing in Campbell, California and is a stylistic, acid tinged head-trip into the punk psyche. It's different from other punk albums for many reasons. For a start, it's clear the participants are having fun. There's a manic sense of sheer enjoyment stamped through every song. Another main reason this differs from many punk albums is how musically accomplished it sounds. It's an immaculate construction of layers of noise built around a cold core of aggression that drives the album to a surprising twist climax, but more of that later.
Let's start with ‘Bastard’, which is a short, sharp hymn to the pleasures and pressures of life on the road. "Nice boys don't play rock 'n' roll" gloats Lars in this tale of fights and bags of weed backstage. It would almost sound hackneyed if not for Lars' passionate delivery. Lars' voice saves the album on more than one occasion. You can hear every word he sings and he's blessed with a voice that actually can, if not exactly carry a tune, can at least batter it into submission. It's an instrument as much as anything else, and he uses it as such on here, and again on songs like 'Maggots'. The nice thing about this album is that it's full of little surprises and quirks. Someone twiddles an effects knob on 'The Kids Are Quiet On Sharmon Palms' and gives it an electro twist; 'Marie Marie' drops a fifties style riff into the mix and so on. It's not a subtle album, but it is a very musical one. It's the sort of thing that the US Roughnecks were probably trying for with this and failed.
There are, as well, moments of surprising subtlety. 'My Life To Live' is one such moment, and sounds like something 'The Pogues' might have knocked up if someone had stolen their fiddles and replaced them with horribly distorted guitars. "My life is like a car crash" croons Lars and is accompanied by Tim as they swap verses between them and come up with one of the albums stand out moments. Well done. Another moment that catches you by surprise is the final track, 'Viking', which is a near spoken word account of the catalogue of horrors that Lars has lived through. "...I'm married to the sea" slurs Lars over a simple guitar line and swirling Hammond organ. It's a great way to end an album.
There are some low points, and some might balk at some of the lyrics and subject matter. 'Mainlining Murder' is one such track that deals with such delights as hitting women and, well, murdering them. It's nothing that Eminem hasn't attempted, and must be seen in context of the album. It's autobiographical and takes place entirely in Lars' head and can be seen as an outlet of aggression rather than a celebration of it. It's fairly disturbing to listen to, though, and that is probably the point. It makes you sit up and take notice and actually question what you're listening to. It's not gratuitous either and is actually one of the albums highlights. A swaggering, heavy riff and a great chorus, it would make a great single except for the small point that no music station would play it, ever.
What is gratuitous and can only safely be described as a shame is the artwork that accompanies the album. The cover itself is not that bad, but inside you get a little booklet of lyrics that are accompanied by pictures of women in various states of undress whilst Lars sits around like a 'bad-ass'. Given that punk is one of those genres that prides itself on it's sense of non-sexism and inclusion, it's a pity that someone thought that those buying this would appreciate something that 'Spinal Tap' would probably have rejected on grounds of taste. It's fairly insulting to anyone over the age of nine. No one buys an album in the hope that there'll be naked women inside and it won't win them any friends but might put a lot of people off. It's your money, you decide. The real pity that if ever there was an album that was strong enough to have no need of juvenile pranks it's this one.