Jesse Michaels wrote the lyrics for Operation Ivy's 26 songs when he was a teenager. They're earnest, angry and scrambling for a foothold in an era defined by greed and a punk scene marred by violence. They're also so indelible that the Bay Area quartet's 1989 album, Energy, remains required listening for every generation of fist-pumping, disaffected youth. Of course, Michaels was just the singer, and Op Ivy's fusion of furious punk and bouncy ska was equally responsible for their songs' endurance decades beyond their brief career.
The band's self-titled disc has been around since 1991, when Lookout! Records paired Energy with the "Hectic" 7-inch and two songs from a compilation. It was remastered at the time by John Golden and Op Ivy producer Kevin Army. Now it's emerged on Hellcat, the label of Op Ivy guitarist and later Rancid front man Tim Armstrong. It's got the same packaging, only in digipak this time, and has been remastered by Gene Grimaldi (NOFX, Pennywise), sounding fuller and less tinny, but not too different otherwise.
So we're left with the songs, which have aged well. They're short and simple, but run the gamut from playful to pissed. The opening "Knowledge" seethes with frustration, while the following track, "Sound System," is a warm ode to music as escape. "Bad Town" is still the brightest spot, all hook, horns, harmonies and soulful lyrics about the underbelly of punk. "Freeze Up" somehow tackles political rhetoric, urban decay and American warmongering with a light touch.
That was Operation Ivy's greatest feat: smuggling social conscience and scene commentary into two-minute blasts of propulsive fun. The more ska-influenced songs may be the most infectious, but the gritty punk ones cut just as deep, whether you're hearing them for the first time or the thousandth.
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