With the rise of punk in the early '80s, one of the most potent scenes for the genre was spawned in the repressive post-Reagan cultural soup of Southern California. Although the area belched out a number of worthy bands, a select few rose above the din of the others to create something truly spectacular. The Dead Kennedys, the Germs, the Circle Jerks, and Black Flag all transcended the heat and passion of the moment, blending speaker-shredding sonics with culturally relevant lyrics and a clear sense of purpose. In the disillusioned miasma of SoCal at the time, this handful of punk avatars helped to change the course of musical history. Among the second tier of influential high-intensity thrashers was Fear, fronted by vein-popping guitarist-vocalist Lee Ving. Fear, like Brando in On the Waterfront, could have been a contender but was ultimately derailed by the band's spotty recording activity and Ving's flourishing acting career. It might not have helped that, while some of his peers were addressing social concerns, Ving was shrieking out odes to beer, a pattern that continues with Fear's latest punk epistle, American Beer.
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American Beer is only Fear's fifth album in the last fifteen-plus years, breaking a six-year silence, and even with numerous personnel changes during that time, the band's sound has remained remarkably unaffected. The standard ale anthems are trotted out on American Beer, from "The Bud Club" to "Beerheads" to "Beer:30," in predictably raw and needle-spiking fashion. Some of the more thoughtful moments come on the Wayne Kramer­like jazz interludes that punctuate "33rd & 3rd," the boozily placed holiday hooks in "Another Christmas Beer," and the full-throttle version of Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man." One of the great tracks here (entitled "What if God's Not One of Us?") is Ving's brilliant response to Joan Osborne's ubiquitous 1995 hit and has all the swaggering volume and attitude of the early days of punk. Even with 15 years of hard living and experience to color the process, Lee Ving and Fear still have an incredible capacity for plugging in and letting fly, even if it's just to honor beers.