In the late ‘80’s, Excel defied categorization with their debut album, Split Image. They weren’t traditional heavy metal by any means, but neither were they straight up hardcore punk. They were probably the quintessential crossover band between the two genres. Well, them and Suicidal Tendencies. They had the metal guitar riffs and double bass drum bursts, but they had that straight forward punk attitude of disdain towards any and all authority figures. As a follow up to Split Image, Excel released The Joke’s On You in 1989 and I played this sucker to death!
The disc opens with “Drive” and does what a lead track is supposed to do . . . gets your attention and keeps you pinned in place until the album is over. The off-time drums, wah’ed out guitar solo, and musical breaks show that this outfit are anything but dumb punks. These guys have chops and could keep up with most of the metal bands on the scene at that time. Sabbath-like riffs push us through “Shadow Winds” and carry us to a great chorus break down where, ultimately, the band pick up the pace to those traditional skate punk tempos. “Fired (You’re)” is a traditional snot nose punk number that features more outstanding drum work and stop-on-a-dime breaks.
Barely before we’ve been able to catch our breath, Excel kick into “Affection Blends With Resentment”, and we get to sing along in a classic punk sing-along style. The break at the chorus has always reminded me of Jane’s Addiction, and considering that Jane’s was fresh off the success of Nothing Shocking, well . . . it’s not all that shocking to hear some influence make it’s way to Venice Beach.
Much like “Fired (You’re)”, “My Thoughts” has that punk overtone, but with a more introspective slant from singer Dan Clements. It’s an interesting juxtaposition in that with such aggressive music so rife with anti-establishment sentimentality that they would “take time to shake hands with my inner self.” Again, it’s those little nuances that made this band so good at what they did. “I Never Denied” follows next with another classic crossover tune, jam packed with neck wrenching tempo changes and body slamming riffs. Through the beginning build up, one can actually imagine the scores of bodies strutting in a circle. Shirts removed from those most brave to bare their physique (or lack thereof), skin shimmering in the pulsating stage lights, paranoid eyes shifting anxiously to see where the first body blow will be coming from. And then . . . the combination of guitars and drum kick in at that precise moment that the entire circle unravels to become a massive, rolling, boiling stew of appendages tangling with one another. Good times, friends. Good times.
Excel, I’m sure, raised a few eyebrows with their cover of "Message in the Bottle" from The Police. But, honestly, they did it their way and they did it well. There’s nothing in the world that Racer and I loathe more than when a band does a cover song and it sounds so much like the original that it makes you wonder why they ever did it in the first place. If a band's going to cover a tune, they better do it in their own voice, style, and fashion. Otherwise, what’s the point? We’ve all heard it before.
Sorry. Went off on a little tangent there, but it had to be said.
The best thing about the CD version of The Joke’s On You is that they included the b-side single, “Blaze Some Hate.” Amazing song! Dynamic shifts from slow to fast to mid tempo. Tight guitar work. Tight rhythm section. Vocals that work well within the context of the music. All in all, a perfect closer to a damn near perfect album.
Tracking down this disc may take some effort, but it’s worth it. After damn near twenty years, the tunes still sound fresh. Yeah, their aggressive and uncompromising, but they’re honest. The best thing about The Joke’s On You is that, if you spent any time in a pit, it will take you right back to some of those happy moments when you and a thousand other like minded “friends” were together for one reason and one reason only. To enjoy music in your own unique way and knock the freaking shit out of each other.
Excuse me as this old punk kicks off his Doc Martin’s and slides into an old pair of slippers. - Pope JTE
Buy here: The Joke's on You