One Man Army, in my opinion, is one of the most overlooked 90’s punk bands. Likewise, this album – their 1998 debut – is woefully underrated. Dead End Stories has the honor of being the first record Billie Joe Armstrong chose to release through his record label Adeline Records. And it’s easy for me to see what the Green Day frontman saw in the band; what isn’t easy for me to understand is why One Man Army isn’t held in higher regard.
Dead End Stories is one of the strongest debut albums I’ve laid ears on. Sure, some bands strike gold on their inaugural effort – the Ramones being one of the most notable examples. But let’s face it, more often than not, debut albums see a band getting their sea legs with an amalgamation of hastily produced, half baked songs. Having already recorded two EPs, One Man Army had their shit together when it came time to hit the studio for their first LP. I love everything about this record. The candid lyrics and jangly guitar of Jack Dalrymple, James Kotter’s infectious, busy basslines, and Brandon Pollack’s bouncy drumming – I love every bit of it.
The title track pulls you in right off the bat. Dalrymple makes a strong first impression with his unique, raspy voice, belting out sneering lines about being “just like the rest and part of the problem”. After that it’s full speed ahead, as the band reels off four more rapid fire punk rock songs. As Side A of the record winds down, we reach “Another Time”. This hauntingly beautiful song is without a doubt my favorite track. One Man Army takes their foot off the gas and delivers an uncannily somber story of two young boys who endure the untimely passing of their single mother. Jack’s simple lead guitar parts put an exclamation point on the song’s melancholy feel. This track delivers an unexpectedly powerful message that feels like a punch in the gut, yet it does not seem out of place in the slightest among all these rowdy punk songs.
And just as quickly as things slowed to a crawl, they rapidly accelerate once again. “Fate at Fourteen”, a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of growing up too fast, kicks off the record’s B side as the band launches into another 15 minutes of up-tempo punk. Other standout tracks include anthemic drinking song “Big Time” and the more bitter “Back Then”, in which Dalrymple expresses his contempt for an estranged friend who “used to be a punk back then”. The album culminates in “Downtown Lights”, a screenplay-like tale of a naive kid who moves to Hollywood to pursue his ill fated dreams of a musical career. A fitting end to a record called Dead End Stories.
This is one of those albums you can put on no matter your mood. If you’ve never heard this record, I can’t recommend it enough. If you have heard it but it’s been a while since you last gave it a spin, now’s the time. One Man Army kicks fucking ass.