The title song of Sick of It All's "Call to Arms" is not actually a call to arms. It's a plea that listeners think for themselves, a slightly ironic message from a band that plays standard-issue New York hardcore-punk. Ten years into its recording career, this New York quartet is still vigorous and well-intentioned, but has yet to find its own path. Whether indulging self-doubt ("Guilty," "Morally Confused") or extolling worthy comrades ("Sanctuary," "Quiet Man"), singer Lou Kollar isn't shouting anything new. Yet according to the no-regrets philosophy of "Hindsight," which sports the album's most tuneful chorus, that doesn't matter. "Move on with no delay," the song counsels, and Sick of It All certainly does that.
The music on Good Riddance's "Operation Phoenix" isn't distinctive either, but this Northern California quartet interrupts the musical attack with ideologically oriented spoken-word interludes and fuels it with more specific politics. Most of these songs address the personal struggle of growing up skeptical in the conformist, consumerist USA, but singer Russ R. also condemns sexism ("Eighteen Seconds"), denounces the CIA ("Winning the Hearts and Minds") and conducts a slightly confusing flashback to the Vietnam era ("Article IV"). The members of this precision-tuned punk combo have taken the requisite gaze into their dissatisfied hearts, but they've also looked into some books.
On "The Difference Between," Southern California band In My Eyes declares that it has "Lasting Values," and by hardcore-punk standards, indeed it does. The quintet takes its name from a song by early-'80s Washington hardcore exemplar Minor Threat, and singer Sweet Pete has obviously studied the authoritative delivery of Threat vocalist Ian MacKaye (now of Fugazi). "You think I'm living in the past/ Living out something long gone/ But what's so wrong with believing what made me who I am?" asks "In(My Eyes)tro/This Is Our Time." Nothing wrong with it, of course, but even those impressed by In My Eyes's fervor may hope that the band eventually outgrows its influences -- and writes some songs as catchy as its current ones are earnest.
All appearing Sunday at Nation with Kid Dynamite. To hear a free Sound Bite from Sick of It All, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8129. For a Sound Bite from Good Riddance, press 8130. For a Sound Bite from In my Eyes, press 8131. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)
CAPTION: Sick Of It All, 10 years after, is still full of energy if not direction.