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Artist: The Avengers

Album: The Avengers

Label: Water

Review date: May. 30, 2012


The Avengers - "We are the One" (The Avengers)


Punk has been absorbed so many times by mainstream culture — as a musical style, a fashion statement, and a source for empty anti-establishment sloganeering — that to hear The Avengers over 30 years on from their brief, powerful three-year run makes for a remarkably inspiring experience. While to the most jaded of ears, Greg Ingraham’s zooming guitars and Penelope Houston’s fist-pump choruses, might sound a little too familiar, it’s essential to remember that in 1977 when The Avengers were storming the San Francisco punk scene and blowing the Sex Pistols off the stage at the Winterland Ballroom (Steve Jones would actually later produce the band’s 1979 White Noise EP), punk was a daring subculture that, even if only temporarily and somewhat naively, had a mind to burn the whole useless system to the ground. That it was being led by kids barely out of their teens made it all the more shocking.

Water’s double-disc reissue of the constantly in-and-out of print 1983 self-titled Avengers comp — which collects the bands two EPs, the “Paint it Black Single” and other tracks recorded at those sessions — is a testament to the staying power of the Avengers’ songs and their message. There are few statements of individuality and the rejection of mainstream values as immediately empowering as “We Are the One” or “The American In Me.”

Spewing forth lyrical grenades like "we will build a better tomorrow/the youth of today will be the tool/American children built for survival/fate is our destiny and we shall rule," (from “We Are the One”) and "everybody’s trying to tell me how to live my life/ If I hear it one more time from you baby/gonna slit your gut with a knife" (from “Teenage Rebel”), Houston struck not only an essential pose for women looking for a place on stage in a punk band, but one for anyone looking to use rock ‘n’ roll to tell the world to listen up and fuck off.

Musically, the Avengers have had an undeniable impact on punk’s sound, particularly on a certain West Coast style that places a premium on big chords, a surprisingly crisp production quality, and anthemic hooks. It’s not something that’s always lent itself to the most interesting of progeny, but in the hands of Ingraham and Houston it was a tremendously effective delivery system. Songs such as “Second to None,” with its arch suspicion of the old adage that cleanliness is next to godliness, or the self-reliance-as-rebellion rant “I Believe in Me” represent a definitive American punk template that, while diluted over the years, remains as visceral as ever when tapped from the source.

The ideas expressed on the songs here are still popular, yet they tend to get misappropriated faster and faster within the confines of our increasingly brief cultural cycles. A song like “We Are the One” in theory transcends this problem. By its very nature, it goes far beyond The Avengers themselves, envisioning a new dawn with new leadership, new rules, new archetypes, etc. There’s an illusive quality to it that evades full-on co-option. The music (or rather the musical style) isn’t actually the message, a point underscored by Houston’s post-Avengers career as a folk singer-songwriter. What this new world will look like is never clearly defined, you just know what it’s not, and you make the rest up as you go along. That notion is out there a lot these days; it’s easy to scoff at it, just like it would be to scoff at The Avengers as so much dated youth culture. And the new incarnation of this spirit will probably be gobbled up before too long. But like this record, it’ll be back again…and again. And one of these days it’s going to stick.

By Nate Knaebel

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