This year, Harrington Saints really broke through and made an impression when they bucked their own traditions, crossed pop-punk and Oi and changed their fates forever on the Fish & Chips EP. The change from street-y Oi yo fare which could be instantly accessible to a much larger potential market almost seemed spontaneous; Harrington Saints basically went from minor-league-identified street barkers to contenders capable of punching their weight in one effortless step – and after they took it, they were just ready to go. It sounds simple, but was it? Well, yes and no – the truth is that there WAS an intervening release called the “Upright Citizen” 7-inch: a single which helps to connect the band’s early work with Fish & Chips. With that in mind, it stands to reason that everyone knows (or SHOULD know) about “Upright Citizen” but, as is so common among singles of its type, this single went largely unnoticed upon its release in October 2014 in spite of being pressed in four eye-catching colors (300 copies were pressed in green vinyl, 300 in silver, 300 in yellow and 100 copies were pressed on black vinyl for a total count of 1000 pieces). In the spirit of complete honesty, the single got buried in this critic’s stacks too but, happily, the Fish & Chips EP inspired some renewed interest and caused me to find and sink a needle into this single for a bit more music.
What I found on this 7” made me snap to attention as soon as “Upright Citizen” sounded the opening of the single’s A-side. There’s precisely nothing remarkable about how the song starts – stock, distorted punk guitar and singer Darrel Wojick barking out, “Got a job ’cause nothin’s free/ Pay my taxes, feed my family/That’s what ‘Do the right thing’ means to me” – but it calls to mind images of Black Flag in their My War days as well as early Roger Miret and the Disasters or Agnostic Front before they became a metal band. That’s enough to grab a listeners’ attention, as well it should be – and the band just starts running with it as soon as they’ve got it; “Upright Citizen” blazes unchecked through three and a half minutes of spitting, swaggering and sneering raw power as guitarists Mike C. And Jayson Shepard, bassist Mike Miller and drummer DeForect Mastretti knock both around and through a by-the-book progression. Wojick takes care to ally the band with the working class both with his lyrics (outright denials of desire for material things, cursing corporations and 9-to-5 jobs, et c.) as well as earnestly showing some of his “punk” badges (tattoos and disdain for mainstream societal creature comforts) at every available opportunity. Re-read that description again, and you’ll find it’s easy to pick out just how fornulaic it is but, even so, it’s so easy to pick out the potential too; there’s some hunger here that’s impossible to feign and a greater sense of urgency than the band had about them on Bettin’ On A Longshot or (ironically) Dead Broke In The USA. Listeners won’t be able to miss how what would come on Fish & Chips is forming here; it’s not quite there yet, but the band is earnestly struggling to realize it.
The B-side comes even closer to realizing what would appear on Fish & Chips sonically, even if “Let’s Go Rob A Bank” sort of defaults back to punk silliness on the song’s lyric sheet. The central theme of “…Rob A Bank” is dumb, of course, but the slightly more “lighthearted malcontent” lyrical angle crossed with the stronger-than-the-A-side punk sound makes it easy to take because it’s tight, hard and short enough that it doesn’t have time to languish. In that way, listeners will find they’re actually left wanting more because “…Rob A Bank” is a really seductive tease; it’s fun and foolish just like some of the best Ramones songs were.
…And what does one get between the A- and B-sides of this single combined? Tantalized. Yes, the Fish & Chips EP is miles better, but this single illustrates the “forming” moment which led to it. It might not be for everybody, but some listeners will recognize the value of that.
(Pirates Press Records)