Pennywise have been mainstays of the punk scene for over a quarter century now, with a near constant presence on the touring circuit and eleven studio albums under their belts. Fans hoping for new music from the quartet will be disappointed as Nineteen Eighty Eight is a collection of Pennywise’s early works, consisting of the tracks from 1989’s self-released A Word From The Wise (tracks 1 – 5) and Wildcard (tracks 6-8) EPs – which were themselves re-released together in 1992 – and the three songs they contributed to Soul Arch: The Theologian Compilation (tracks 9 – 11) in the mid-nineties.
Much like Taylor Swift did with 2014’s 1989, Pennywise have named their latest release for their birth year, and hitting play transports the listener back to a time before technology meant every two-bit garage band could record and release their own music at next to no cost. The recordings present here very much sound like those of a band with little-to-no financial backing, stumping up what they can to make their dreams come true. A Word From The Wise’s tracks are a little harsh and trebly, while those from Wildcard are a little muddied, and those taken from Soul Arch increase the production values a touch. Beyond the sense of old-school nostalgia these low production values provide, they do force the listener’s attention to the musicianship and song-writing on display.
Depression is well structured, featuring plenty of space for each band member to do their thing without stepping all over one another, and No Way Out sounds like the songs that wouldn’t become popular in the mainstream until the mid-to-late nineties. Maybes funky intro and layered rhythms demonstrate that Pennywise weren’t above having fun while also showing that they can comfortably step outside of punk’s genre restrictions, a contention that is further supported by the cover of Ben E. King’s Stand By Me, which shows that Jim Lindberg has a pleasing (normal) singing voice, as the first half is a rendition that is true to the original while the back half is the expected punk noise and speed. The collection is closed with a more ‘conventional’ punk rendition of Black Flag’s Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie, which sounds like Pennywise are attempting to muster their entire sound just to match Henry Rollins’ vocal intensity from the original, which results in the song’s groove orientation being lost.
Sadly, it’s all too easy to be cynical about artists re-releasing earlier works and, considering hard-core fans would have already sourced copies of these recordings, it raises the question “why re-release, why not re-record?” Perhaps pure nostalgia is the answer, or a sense that the younger section of the audience needs a history lesson. Perhaps, since the death of bassist Jason Thirsk in 1996, the band finds it too painful or distasteful to re-record these songs in the studio. Regardless, Nineteen Eighty Eight, is one for existing fans only.