Not Just Soccer Moms' Fun

Courtesy Side One Dummy RecordsGraphic designers of the far future will look favorably on the golden age of punk-band logos. The best of these designs still grace the underpasses and leather jackets of the industrialized world. How many Fortune 500 corporation logos can rival the angular Dead Kennedys crest? The Flipper fish? Both Raymond Pettibon's four rectangles and the Microsoft logo represent flags, but it's a good bet the Black Flag bars are what will survive for posterity. 7 Seconds has not been so fortunate. Their logo—the numeral seven caught in a sniper's cross hair—never quite seized the public imagination. From a distance, it is easy to confuse this grumpy bit of graphic design for both the Public Enemy logo and the stemless Celtic cross of white supremacists.

As the Thomas Paine of the formative hardcore scene—eclipsed by the Washingtons and Jeffersons alongside them—7 Seconds has had to fight obscurity with longevity. Their 1984 LP, TheCrew,established the band's surprisingly durable template: sentimental sing-alongs and sadistically upbeat lyrics. Infected by the Bad Brains' philosophy of Positive Mental Attitude but lacking in fearsome religious convictions, 7 Seconds had to make their mark without the darkness of the Dead Kennedys or Black Flag. Although the group sang quite convincingly about racism and war, it was their stands on such Sunday-school issues as bullies and lying that made them stick out. For a band unafraid to channel the awkwardness of high school—T-shirts worn over sweat shirts, half-shaved heads, guys in berets—7 Seconds had a nasty wholesome streak. Singer Kevin Seconds—with his trademark no-glare, jock-style eye black—frequently evoked a JV defensive lineman at scrimmage. There are sentiments here that any soccer mom could begrudgingly respect.

Not that they weren't contenders. For three years in the mid-'80s, 7 Seconds served as honorary Decency Defenders after Minor Threat broke up. In 1984, Kevin Seconds founded Positive Force Records (disclosure: as a teenager, I once narced Positive Force Records to the Better Business Bureau over a year-late copy of the NukeYourDinkcompilation seven-inch; the matter was settled out of court) and established ties with the equally optimistic Better Youth Organization. In 1985, the band recorded the WalkTogetherRockTogetherLP with Ian MacKaye as producer.

By the time DC's Dag Nasty had won back Minor Threat's spot in 1986, 7 Seconds were on to greener pastures. Their NewWindLP came tinted with U2-ism. Hair was grown. The following year's PraiseEP seemed calculated for college-radio airplay. The band found itself in the cul-de-sac of all durable political artists: sniped at by their constituents, rejected as dealers in cheese. Crowds that didn't mind the Hallmark platitudes of their lyrics found this same tameness indigestible as music.

Who could have guessed the path to commercial success lay not with Midnight Oil, but with frantic thrash? 7 Seconds have long since recovered from their transgression. The band has made another eight albums in the past 19 years (one for Sony), each hewing closely to the original formula. Although they can and do overreach—on slicker songs, Kevin's voice will stretch into a whine or stink up a note—the band still writes some decent melodies.

Their latest album, TakeItBack,TakeItOn,TakeItOver,features 17 songs in 28 minutes. The record is notable in that it features so many hardcore songs written about hardcore itself. Bassist Steve Youth has not changed his last name. On the front cover, a suspiciously youthful punk rocker flaunts the 7 Seconds logo on his jacket, plodding onward. Nothing has changed.


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