Looking back, it’s pretty incredible how fertile punk’s creative soil was in the Nineties. Sure – everyone knows the mid-Nineties as being the period which broke punk into the mainstream (pop punk) and made bands like Lagwagon, Propagandhi, Green Day, NOFX, Offspring (I’ve written this list out several times before) and innumerable others household names and/or institutions who would help shape how punk would define itself in the twenty-first century. But those names are just the tip of the iceberg and, as in nature, the size of the mass below what’s clearly visible in rock is several times larger than the mass that everyone knows. One of the bands who remained beneath the surface (or, in the underground – don’t those references work together well?) for the duration of their career was Reducers SF – a “sorta” punk band who didn’t exactly fit the mold, but didn’t completely shatter it either.
Founded in 1995, Reducers SF took a slightly different angle at the punk rock which was doing so well at the time in that their inspiration was localized more to British punk values than North American ones. They weren’t lads, of course, but they definitely sought to Americanize the “aesthetics go piss” attitude that the Sex Pistols, The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers brought to the music, and did so in a relentlessly individual manner. Simply said, there was no punk band who ever sounded exactly like Reducers SF before they came along and there hasn’t been a band like them since they packed it in in 2007 either.
This Essentials set collects all three of Reducers SF’s LPs and includes a bonus 12” LP packed with demos, live cuts and B-sides to give a complete portrait of the band and, to be honest, it is pretty cool to see their development on a truncated timeline. This way, for example, it’s really easy and exciting to hear Reducers’ rough and raw beginnings (on Backing The Long Shot) develop and mutate into the far more polished presentation which appears on Raise Your Hackles. Here, listeners will get a kick out of the band starting as a vaguely punky bar band (complete with re-imagined covers of Run DMC and Boz Scaggs songs) and building to a far more solid and confident entity with a unique musical vision by which they cashed in their chips.
Without trying to sound dismissive (though it likely will), Reducers’ debut album, Backing The Long Shot, sounds exactly like the kind of pop and skate punk which was popular around 1995 which would have been great – except that it was released in 1999. By then, pop was looking somewhere else and, while the band might have won some fans on the Warped Tour at the time, it didn’t even get that opportunity. Songs like “Let It Go,” “Looking For Glory,” “Die Like Me” and “Don’t Like You” all play very similarly to the classic sounds of Stiff Little Fingers but without the accent or the over-the-top production values, which actually proves to be a significant boon for the band; with no particular ambition other than to just get heard, each song stays light and fun and is only slightly misanthropic at just the right moments.
Conversely, Crappy Clubs and Smelly Pubs – Reducers’ sophomore album – steps beyond Backing The Long Shot, ups the production value slightly and makes the band’s ambition to break through the glass ceiling into pop plain. Unfortunately though, the results brush closer to sounding like Boomtown Rats in all the wrong ways as chubby, greasy guitar tone, a great reliance on cymbals to fill in the mix and singer Glen McHenry’s campy desire to sound sleazy are big problems, to start. While not EVERY song’s a loser (“Not Fooled,” “Empty Bottles,” “Never Find Me” and “Screwed Again” almost make throwing the album on worthwhile), far too many are and that sinks the album, in the end.
By this point, Reducers SF had covered the music quality spectrum, so the band elected to hedge their bets for Raise Your Hackles. They needed another winner desperately and, lo and behold, they did make up all the ground they’d lost with their sophomore album back. McHenry was still trying to sound like punk’s answer to Gary Glitter, but even that didn’t stop songs like “You Got Nothin’,” “Over The Edge,” “Never Break Me” and “Hired Hand” from rocking the hell out of listeners and making everyone who heard the album believe that redemption was possible for Reducers SF – until the band gave up in 2007.
Running through all the albums again in this set really does offer a sweet, nostalgic sense – because Reducers really were a lot of fun in their heyday but, even better, the extra record of everything else Pirates Press could find to include has some pretty stellar moments as well. It is fun for those who remember the band to re-live, but it’s pretty unlikely that they will spontaneously experience a grand rush of new interest based on the power of the collection. Why? Well, Reducers SF were very much a product of their time – they generated some excitement for a lot of people in a particular time and place – but that time has passed and the places the music could once have gone to are changed. It’s unfortunate that a lot of time and effort was put into this collection, because it’s hard to think of an occasion when this stuff could really need a tremendous amount of revisiting.
The Reducers SF’s Essentials vinyl box set is out now. Buy it here, directly from Pirates Press.