Naked Raygun: Understand?

Naked Raygun

REAGAN-ERA PUNKS Naked Raygun seemed like nice guys without getting insufferably goody two-shoes about it--or tripping serial-killer alarms in your head. Clean-cut and good-looking, they were perfectly groomed for Eighties proto-skater hero worship, making time for the kids and introducing future rock critics to Steve Albini. (Big Black were regular openers for the group.)

The band looked like human-sized G.I. Joes onstage, playing a muscular, nonmetal punk that nodded to PiL as much as the Buzzcocks. Today fans in the Midwest and Northeast rank their performances with Hüsker Dü or the Minutemen. Why, then, aren't these Chicagoans better known outside of Minneapolis, Boston, or their hometown? Part of their problem was marketing. Only rarely did Naked Raygun subject themselves to the masochism of van touring. Their label history was checkered, too. They bailed from Homestead, citing lack of support, and then signed to Caroline, which wasn't much better.

The band really didn't fit into any specific punk niche, proving too raucous for college poppers, too slow for thrashers, and too serious, or not serious enough, for anyone not catching their drift. But what stymied them ten years ago helps Understand? hold up now. Along with the rest of their catalog, the album has just been rereleased on Quarterstick, and what once sounded like mindless shout-along choruses seems today like surprisingly sophisticated takes on green-army-guy politics (i.e. war sucks, but the gear is cool). Perhaps their most overlooked quality was a sly sense of humor, which emerges here on the bonus live tracks. Don't think singer Jeff Pezzati isn't giggling behind his hands over getting a whole room of next-generation wiseasses to holler "I don't know" over and over again in unison.

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