Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Wipers - Youth of America

The Wipers
Youth of America


Released 1981 on Trap
Reviewed by Lawrence, 16/12/2013ce


This will be a bit difficult to review without sounding like Jack Rabid, who although I share some of his musical tastes, his writing always left me a bit cold for some reason. I'm pretty sure people who have read my reviews here know I'm not anything like Rabid at all. Anyways...

The Wipers are an American punk band not talked of in the same breath as the Ramones, Circle Jerks or Bad Religion. Main songwriter Greg Sage had in interviews blamed this on his band's location of Portland Oregon, which like all American cities besides LA and NYC had it's own punk scene that few outside of the area really knew about. But the Wipers are the best known from the place simply because not only were they one of the best of their kind, they best exemplified the times they came from -- late 70s to early 80's. Not to say they've become dated at all because their overall themes are still relevant today -- and Sage is still writing songs right up about now although I haven't heard that much of his newish...

They were a part of my teenage soundtrack, and very few bands of its kind really had the same frisson. There seemed to be lots of rage and pain in much of their material that was a reflection of what I had to deal with back then -- the frustration, the peer-pressure, feeling like the underdog...

So, about the music... Sage was as remarkably proficient on guitar as, say, Tom Verlaine, but Sage's approach was quite a bit more Hendrix-y. He managed to run through scales at such fast tempos it would be a challenge for any musician to follow what he did. Of course it's easy to blame him for "grunge", not being far from Seattle for one, but also in his chromatic-style monolithic riffing. If only any of that grunge stuff played at the same breakneck-tempos the Wipers' rhythm-section would delve into...

I'm saying Youth of America might be the Wipers' best. One of the reasons is how Sage's understated use of piano just puts so much more harrowing force into the material. The whole album clocks at a mere 30 minutes, but that's all that is needed here, really. I remember recently someone posting on Facebook that punk songs only work if they're less than three minutes, but Sage disproves that on at least two occasions here, particularly on "When It's Over". He delves into politics on that one and the longer title track, at a time when Reagan started his ruinous presidency which today's Americans are still paying the price for. "When It's Over" breaks into continuous ascending crescendos culminating into a nasty fuzzed-out solo that has to be heard to be believed. The usual personal themes the Wipers are known for are here, whether it's invasion of private lives ("No Fair") or even just being at war with oneself ("Pushing the Extreme").

This is an enduring legacy of a recording. Feel lucky that this is still in print because it should be. And the concerns reflected here are still relevant today.


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