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Rikk Agnew - All By Myself LP
Snarkily titled after Eric Carmen's '70s solo hit but thankfully not featuring a cover of that song,Agnew's solo debut actually lives up to its title completely, as he plays every instrument on the record, creating a great one-man band sound (with the help of Adolescents producer Thom Wilson) as a result. Possessed of a good mid-range punk voice -- no sneering or bellowing, not really singing but not just talking over the songs either -- he creates the same basic rush he brought to his early stints in the Adolescents and the faster Christian Death songs he worked on, but with a slightly poppier bent at points that perfectly balances sass and strength, while not being afraid to experiment from time to time either (as the lengthy album closer "Section 8" shows). "Everyday," the one track Agnew cowrote with someone else (his brother and fellow Adolescents veteran Frank), is a great example of this, with its gentler pace, tight arrangement that lets some space into the playing, and Agnew's actual singing, which succeeds in a slightly winsome way. The leadoff track is yet another Orange County punk classic from Agnew's pen, "OC Life," specifically naming some particularly crap cities worthy of contempt, and from there he's off relentlessly detailing some particularly screwed up lives and problems with a withering eye. More than most who have worked in punk, Agnew can capture a careful empathy when at his best, backed up with memorable music to boot (the fragile keyboard arrangement that fills out the sound on the remarkable character study "10" is particularly lovely touch). "Surfside" sneaks in a surf riff (but of course!) into its otherwise trebly and tense look back at a destructive, unsettled past, a smart way of combining nostalgia with a questioning bent, another fine moment on a generally fine record.