Today’s first post is about “Teen Love”, undoubtedly No Trend’s best-known song. Punk rock is a form almost consciously designed for the single format and punk rock produces innumerable one-hit wonders within its own ambit, just a pop music doe on a wider scale.“Teen Love” is but one in the pantheon of hardcore records that entered some kind of cross-country consciousness within punk circles.
This makes a lot of sense: “Teen Love” is maybe the archetypal sardonic/campy-hardcore song (see also: Flipper’s “Sex Bomb”, Black Flag’s “TV Party”, MDC’s “John Wayne Was a Nazi”, the Minutemen’s “Corona”, anything the Dead Kennedys ever did, Minor Threat’s version of “Stepping Stone” — it’s interesting that most hardcore bands’ “signature” songs were often also their most blackly humorous — but that’s another story). It’s got an oddly pacific main theme — again, that loping bass, with the guitar drone skewing immersive rather than abrasive this time. It could be a slightly more distorted Minutemen interlude, really, short of Jeff Mentges’ affected deadpan, detailing the titular love affair.
The lyrics are a fairly straightforward riff on the vacuousness of youth culture, in a way that is at once the voice of a crew-cut dad telling his son to shape up and a consumer-culture critique in the vein of Veblen and Mills. The sarcasm is more evident here than in most of their work (perhaps this explains its popularity) — Mentges’ opening line (“they met during social interaction in algebra class”) still feels funny, if preachy, for its overt 1984 vibe, a jaded lament in stark contrast to the music.
Again, the critique here is a root-and-branch one: No Trend’s targets here seem to ultimately be the very concept of love or any pretense to “authenticity” in modern society, much as did arch-pessimist Theodor Adorno in Jargon of Authenticity. Is there any hope of escape? In the boundaries and world of “Teen Love”, there is not and we risk sinking into a post-modernist cynicism, where there is no hope for change. The world that the anti-heroes inhabit is fundamentally absurd; they don’t die in a drunk-driving accident, they die because the male suitor was pretending to be drunk (in order to “fit in”, we presume) and crashes the car (perhaps in a last-ditch attempt to be “real”), as bitter a commentary on the futility of “authenticity” as is possible.
There is, however, a place for catharsis. Midway through the song, the post-punk shuffle comes to a halt and a scuttling bass riff — with a cartoonish feeling reminiscent of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” or maybe George Crumb — takes its place. We’re whisked into a 1-2 hardcore stomp, which collapses under its own weight, vocals shrieking unintelligibly (have I mentioned yet that No Trend has a number of aesthetic, if not genealogical, ties with black metal?). In a characteristic move, rather than end with this somewhat predictable Willhelm scream, the same hopeful melody returns, this time with a shit-eating ironic grin. This is some really Brechtian shit (but what else would you expect from a band who shone floodlights onto their audiences) — the obvious tragedy of the situation is constantly undermined by the almost-jaunty music, the laconic delivery. “Yeah, our society is fucked up — I dare you to care about it.” Does it shock you into awareness of the contradictions of capitalist society or just gross you out? I can’t say for sure myself but the song — about a car accident — is, if nothing else, like a car crash itself. You want to look away from the horror but you can’t. Check out the claustrophobic performance linked to above. The garish 80s colors and production only enhances the sense of discomfort that “Teen Love” revels in.