On Second Thought: Suicidal Tendencies – The Art of Rebellion (1992)

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I often imagine myself in the 1990s as crawling through a musical desert and finding the occasional oasis. It is, I think, my least favorite musical decade. There are plenty of records I like from the early 1990s, but by the middle years, things seem to have pretty well dried up. Perhaps it was due to a growth in my musical experience to a point that I became a little more picky about the records I fell in love with. Perhaps there was just a lot of bad music, or at least music that didn’t fit my tastes. Either way, I didn’t find a whole lot of albums in the decade that became life-long favorites.

The slide really began in the early part of the decade, though, when many of the bands that I had enjoyed for years began to evolve. Bands like Metallica and Megadeth, who were part of what I thought was the unshakable bedrock of my metalhead music experience, started to simplify their sound. I started hearing them on the radio and blaring out of the vehicles of people who had previously been blasting MC Hammer and Paula Abdul. I was on guard for any whiff of the dreaded “sell out” during those years, and when Suicidal Tendencies’ The Art of Rebellion came out of my speakers, I smelled it.

I’ve long held the album up as my least favorite ST record, though I have to admit that I haven’t even listened to it probably since the year it was released. It was surprising in that I thought the late 1980s/early 1990s lineup of frontman Mike Muir, guitarists Mike Clark and Rocky George, bassist Robert Trujillo and drummer R.J. Herrera was one of the most musically talented groups in band history. Herrera had departed shortly before this album was recorded, but the other four were still there.

Given that the band’s latest, 13, became one of my surprise favorites of this year after a long dry spell, and that my musical tastes have changed and I now can appreciate the funkier, more melodic side of the band, I thought maybe it was time to dig this one out and give it another shot.

It doesn’t take me long to realize exactly why the 20-year-old version of me hated this record. For one thing, it opens slowly — clean guitars, Muir singing in a much more melodic voice. Of course, it doesn’t take long for things to get ramped up on “Can’t Stop.” The grinding guitars kick in and Muir starts ranting with the rage that I expect. We’re off to a good start on the revisit, but then, that’s one of the songs that I actually liked back then.

“Accept My Sacrifice” opens with a little humor, and then Trujillo starts thumping out a funky bass line with a thrash riff over it. I like it much better than I remembered, but I’m still not sold on the kinder, gentler Mike Muir vocals as he tries to hit this weird little high on the chorus. And it’s where I start noticing how thin this record sounds. Even the heavier parts lack the heft they need to satisfy me. That sound really plagues later songs, like “We Call This Mutha Revenge,” which has the punk spirit of some of their older stuff, but doesn’t have the heaviness.

The ballad “Nobody Hears” is up next, and surprisingly, this is one of the songs from the record that stuck with me. It’s one of those melancholy, powerful songs in the vein of “How Will I Laugh Tomorrow” or “Alone” that the band always did well. It remains my favorite song from the album. Trujillo once again lays a nice groove down on “Tap into the Power,” which is a song that I had forgotten over the years. It seems like something that I would have liked at the time, perhaps not as memorable as some of ST’s other stuff from the era, but not incredibly out of character, either.

There are a few songs that I still think are stinkers. The 1970s hard rock-influenced “Monopoly on Sorrow” still doesn’t do much for me. The doobie-doo vocal lines from Muir just don’t fit. Likewise, the jangly “Asleep at the Wheel” seems a song specifically written to fit into the burgeoning alternative rock scene of the time. The other ballad, “I’ll Hate You Better,” also still meets with mixed feelings from me. I really like the chorus, but the verses are a little weak. I think that’s an improvement over the 20-year-old me who hated the whole song.

The thrash finally comes back on “Gotta Kill Captain Stupid,” which is probably the closest they come to anything that was on Lights, Camera, Revolution or How Will I Laugh Tomorrow. It’s kind of silly, but still fun. Another forgotten tune from this record is “It’s Going Down,” a driving rocker that I really liked on this listening. It’s pretty catchy, but Muir’s vocals remain in that happier frame of mind for much of the song, which is, I think, probably what really turned me off about this record. I was used to the angry, raging Muir, and I wanted more of it.

The verdict? Art of Rebellion is not nearly as bad a record as I remembered from my last listen two decades or so ago. It was a strange record for the band, and very experimental, but in hindsight, probably not the commercial grab that I thought at the time. I didn’t, however, discover the overlooked and forgotten gem that I thought I might a few decades on. My feelings are a little more mixed about it now than they were then. I see a lot of the influence of Infectious Grooves, which was just beginning, and things that Muir would incorporate into his future music. Some of the concepts introduced here, he actually uses pretty well on 13. But overall, the record is still kind of boring. It remains one of my least favorite Suicidal albums, but this time, I think “Nobody Hears” will be joined by a few other songs from this record in my rotation.

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Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips is a veteran entertainment writer with a love of hard rock and heavy metal. He has written music reviews, columns and feature stories for several newspapers, Web sites and a national wire service, while running a stand-alone site called Hall of the Mountain King in various places and incarnations since 1997. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelse reviews.com.
Fred Phillips

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