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The Angst Is Back

By Ricky Rivera

Pennywise is back with their seventh album on Epitaph Records, Land of the Free? Jim Lindberg (vocals), Fletcher Dragge (guitar), Randy Bradbury (bass), and Byron McMackin (drums) always deliver hard-hitting, energetic rock, and this album is no exception. Land of the Free pulls no punches, and that's just the way the fans like it. It is classic Pennywise, and true to the spirit of punk rock.

Pennywise was formed in 1988 by Lindberg, Dragge, McMackin, and the late bassist Jason Thirsk. In a time when grunge was king and Nirvana ruled the world, Pennywise strove to make their mark as a punk band with an optimistic message. Their first album Word from the Wise/Wildcard (released on Theologian Records in 1989) eventually found its way to Brett Gurewitz of Epitaph records, and he signed the band in 1990.

The next year they released their self-titled first major label album, and the band became a word-of-mouth hit in the underground punk rock scene. The band released five more albums from 1993 to 2000, including the successful Straight Ahead in 1999.

Pennywise continues to have a following that is as strong and committed today as they were in the beginning, if not stronger. In 1996, the band had to deal with the suicide of founding bassist Jason Thirsk, who was battling with alcoholism at the time. Randy Bradbury, who had been serving as temporary bass player while Thirsk attempted to rehabilitate himself, became a permanent fixture in the band. Their subsequent album, Full Circle, shows their grief and also their resolution to continue to uplift and empower their fans through their music.

Extremely dedicated to their fans, Pennywise is known for seeking methods of keeping their tickets and merchandise reasonably priced. This includes going so far as foregoing the vendors at the Warped Tour and selling their merchandise outside of the venue. They have never even had a manager or taken a meeting with any larger record labels. In 1995, Pennywise turned down an offer to play the main stage at Lollapalooza because the ticket price was too high. More recently, fifteen fans were randomly chosen by the band to sing back-up vocals on a track for Land of the Free. Very few bands give as high a priority to their fans as Pennywise does, and their fans remain loyal for this reason.

Land of the Free is a straight-up punk rock album. No gimmicks or synthesizers, just fast guitars and politically charged lyrics. It's a formula that's stood the test of time, and it works. It doesn't deviate too far from the standard punk-rock sound, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on tastes. The first single from the album, “Fuck Authority,” is a pretty good indicator of what lies inside the plastic casing of this album.

The title track, “Land of the Free?”, brings up the question of just how free we really are. Like a bat to the face, this album is designed to grab attention. With lines like “a Molotov Cocktail, freedom will prevail,” this record is geared toward action. It's an emotional plea with the citizens of America to stop standing idly by while greed takes over our country. They speak out against groups as diverse as the World Trade Organization and evangelists who are “richer than God.”

Pennywise leaves no corrupted stone unturned. Not to be misunderstood, this album is not about negativity, but about realizing the potential the people have to enact changes in this country. Questioning the government, big business, and organized religion, Pennywise believes in the power of music to change the world. This is free speech in action, a soundtrack for civil protest and political activism. With strong music and equally strong words, Land of the Free does not disappoint. Hypocrites, capitalists, and politicians need not apply.