(Touch And Go)
The context: The term "pegboy" is pretty much a synonym for "punk," which makes it all the more apt that the Chicago band Pegboy forged one of the defining works of American punk rock. Guitarist John Haggerty had already made classic albums in Naked Raygun before forming Pegboy with two fellow Windy City vets: singer-guitarist Larry Damore and bassist Steve Saylors, both of Bhopal Stiffs. The compact punch of 1990's Three-Chord Monte EP served as Pegboy's mission statement, and provided bonus tracks for the CD version of the band's 1991 full-length debut, Strong Reaction. Skirting grunge, pop-punk, post-hardcore, and emo—all of which were erupting at the time—Strong Reaction has aged with a rugged grace that puts most of its contemporaries to shame.
The greatness: Like its monochrome, text-only cover, Strong Reaction is stark, utilitarian, and chiseled to the bone. The disc opens with the title track, a chugging engine of black riffs fueled by a monstrous sense of loss. Introspective without being whiny—it's hard to imagine Damore, a veritable meatpacker of a man, whining about anything—the lyrics to "Strong Reaction" tackle sadness with an unflinching vulnerability that would make today's emo kid beg for mommy. And the record just doesn't let up: Damore's knuckles are alternately white and bloody as he pummels his way through mangled truth, scarred hope, and heart-swallowing doubt. The instrumental "Locomotivelung" is Strong Reaction's tribute to Amphetamine Reptile sludge, which gives way to the album's brightest spot: "Superstar," a song of soaring defiance that leaves descriptors like "sing-along" and "anthem" falling far short. "With all the things that I do / I'm tired of playing for you / I'm done wasting my time / Got to live my own life," Damore grunts over Haggerty's blunt hooks. His years of singing bulldog punk for numbskulls seem to be gnawing on his sanity, if not his soul. People like to pretend punk died sometime in the '70s or '80s, but it wasn't until 1991 and Strong Reaction that the genre produced an album that utterly lives up to its founding principles: Simple, honest, unpretentious, working-class—the epitome of meat-and-potatoes rock.
Defining song: Immediately after "Superstar" plunges headfirst into Pegboy's poppier side, "Field Of Darkness" wallows in it. Punctuated by Joe Haggerty's ham-fisted, irresistible drum fills, the song is a tense exercise in emotional isometrics: "Sunday and I'm feeling bored / And I'm feeling like my head is tore / Just can't take it any more," Damore screams, as guitars chime and bash furiously. If Johnny B. Goode "could play the guitar just like ringing a bell," Haggerty plays his like he's manning a pile-driver—and on "Darkness," he perfects, then pulverizes, contemporary pop-punk just as it's being born.