For the past 20 years Fat Wreck has been the premier punk label. Sure Epitaph was great and Nitro had its moments, but the house that Fat Mike built has remained at the top. The “classic” Fat bands include names such as Lagwagon, Propaghandi, No Use for a Name, and Swingin’ Utters. Over the last few years these bands have either left or become a lot less active than they were in their heyday, and a new wave of bands like Teenage Bottlerocket, the Flatliners, and Cobra Skulls have started taking the spotlight (and deservedly so). Every so often, though, one of the classic bands awakens to deliver something that schools even the best of these newer bands. The Utters’ “Here, Under Protest” does just that.
Eight years is a long time. It’s the amount of time that we waited for George W. Bush to leave office, it’s how many years you’ve been in college still trying to figure out what you wanna do, and it’s how many years it took me to learn how to do laundry properly (laziness played into this a lot) . It’s also the length of time that has elapsed since Swingin’ Utters put out a studio album. The previous mentioned classic Fat bands were the ones that I grew up with and loved, so I get a little extra excited when there is some activity from one of these staples.
In this writer’s opinion, Swingin’ Utters have been the best band on Fat for years now. The gap of eight years between records has been noticeable: I believe the Utters knew this next one had to be great to keep the long-waiting fans happy. What they came up with is one of the best records that Fat Wreck has ever put out.
The album starts off blazing with the track “Brand New Lungs.” As soon as the first few chords are struck you know you’ve found something special. An uplifting song about not looking to the past and getting your shit together and giving yourself a fresh start. The following track, “Take The Long Way Home,” is among the best songs the Utters have ever made. Super catchy, perfect melodies and the dueling vocals of Mr. Johnny Peebucks and guitarist Darius Koski. Other highlight tracks include “Reds And Blues And Beggars,” the Beatles-inspired “Bent Collector of 1,000 Limbs,” and the pit starting “Give It All To The Man.” There isnt a weak track on this album: it’s one of those rare records that you can listen all the way through and not get bored. Seventeen tracks of punk rock perfection.
“Here, Under Protest” wields strong country, bluegrass and even blues influences, all wrapped up in the unique UK77-meets-classic-90s-Fat sound that the Utters have honed over the years. Singer Johnny Peebucks has one of the most distinctive voices in punk rock: rasp meets sincerity, the perfect sound of optimism while still being pissed off. The band is tight. Darius Koski is one of the most talented guitarists in punk rock and shines on this album. Though Spike Slawson is perhaps better known for his singing with Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, his bass playing is impeccable.
This record will be on many best of 2011 lists and will likely be the best that Fat releases this year (assuming Lagwagon doesn’t have a gem like this waiting). The mixture of genres and heartfelt lyrics give this album staying power. I can see looking back on this in a decade like I do with a classic like 1998’s “Five Lessons Learned.” Swingin’ Utters make the type of music that avoids the current trends of the punk rock scene yet always stays relevant. Here’s to another eight years. Maybe I’ll learn to cook by the time we get the next album. “Here, Under Protest” is beef burgers.