Back before 1981, when Minor Threat decided to employ a modified 2/4 oompah as its backbeat and kick in an entire movement of hyper-polka through Marshall stacks and call it “hardcore,” punk rock was basically a sped-up smorgasbord of pub, pop, Slade chants, and powerchord Sabbath-isms. But post-’81, anything that employed the Ramones-Pistols-Vibrators rhythm chassis was immediately dumped ‘n’ lumped into the “old school” bin, and the original swing and sway of the first punk bands became a smaller and smaller subgenre.
Yet now, from Seattle, that gloomy capital of ooze, come the Briefs—a shocking quartet of ambassadors for whom time has stood still. Standing spiky-haired, skinny-tied, peg-legged, and wraparound-shaded on the cover of their CD Hit After Hit, the Briefs make no bones about where their allegiance lies: the year of our Lord 1977. Owing much more to the Sonics sonically speaking than Soundgarden, this quartet brings back one of the most crucial elements of snot-nosedness—that is, the overkill of absurd burlesqued aggression. Where punk rockers of the ’80s and ’90s name-checked Reagan and Bush the First as the roots of all evil, the Briefs aim their putative rage at obviously innocuous targets on purpose. That being the twin towers of Bob Seger (“Silver Bullet,” with its “kill Bob Seger right now” chorus that never explains exactly what Mr. Night Moves’ capital crime may have been) and Dolly Parton (whose namesake song’s lyric consists only of the line “Dalai Lama/Dolly Parton” repeated twice, and ends at a minute).
Their stabs at class warfare go only as far as how it affects their ability to score chicks, as in “Poor and Weird” (“I’m poor and I’m weird and you won’t talk to me”). Like fellow revivalists the Queers, the Briefs are at their level best when going for cheap laughs—the funniest moment outside of the Dolly/Dalai chant is “New Case,” where the entire band breaks into a jolly gang-chorus joyfully revealing that “I got a new case of crabs.” Puerile and idiotic it is, but it’s also totally hilarious—the Briefs have figured out what the Vibrators and 999 always knew: that the three-chord attack lends itself naturally to a beautiful blend of irony and silliness that, despite its limits, is timeless, like all great jokes. Hit After Hit would not have been out of place as an import on a Bleecker Bob’s shelf in loose shrink-wrap circa the bicentennial. Punk-perfect, if there is such a thing.