Most of the kids who were born the year Buzzcocks released their first album will be old enough to order a beer at the band's 9:30 club show this weekend, yet the Manchester quartet is within its rights calling its latest album "Modern." Since reassembling 10 years ago, the band has recaptured much of its early energy and written a score or more of catchy new songs. Its new album expands on those successes by incorporating hip-hop beats and electronic elements that recall singer-guitarist Pete Shelley's in-between career as a synth-popper.
Even boosted by the digital pulse of "Soul on a Rock" and the hip-hopped swagger of "Doesn't Mean Anything," "Modern" doesn't rival the best of Buzzcocks' original run. On its own terms, however, the album is very engaging, with strong contributions from both Shelley ("Thunder of Hearts") and fellow singer-guitarist Steve Diggle ("Speed of Life"). This music isn't revolutionary, but it has as credible a claim to being modern as anything else released this year.
Even in 1978, the only revolution that captured Buzzcocks' imagination was the sexual one, and Down by Law has a similarly apolitical heritage: The quartet's style is descended from the good-time punk of Dag Nasty, the Washington-bred band with whom DBL's Dave Smalley once sang. On "Fly the Flag," however, the band's latest lineup goes geopolitical, attacking U.S. and British hegemony on songs like "Breakout!" and "Greenwhich Mean Time."
Recorded at Arlington's Inner Ear Studios, the album finds targets right across the river and in the music industry: "This Is the New Breed" attacks Bill Clinton and liberals who failed to denounce him, while "Nothing Good on the Radio" reviles the Backstreet Boys, Puff Daddy, Matchbox 20 and others. "Light a fire in your head," Smalley commands in "Revolution Compromised," and he seems to have done just that. "Fly the Flag" contains no musical surprises, but it does pack plenty of heat.
Both appearing Sunday at the 9:30 club with the Lunachicks and Candy Snatchers. To hear a free Sound Bite from Buzzcocks, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8103. For a Sound Bite from Down by Law, press 8104. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)