When The Bronx burst out of L.A.’s underbelly 10 years ago with its self-titled debut, the birth wasn’t a clean one. Produced by Guns N’ Roses’ Gilby Clarke in his home studio, the disc locked its frothing jaws on a filthy form of punk that teetered on the precipice of implosion. Since then, the band has careened all over the place—most notably by assuming an alter ego, Mariachi El Bronx, whose contrarian novelty wore thin long ago. The Bronx (IV) is the group’s first rock album since 2008, and if The Bronx has learned anything in the interim, it’s this: Keep it stupid, stupid.
(IV)’s dumbness, though, is only skull deep. Throat-punches like “Under The Rabbit” and album opener “The Unholy Hand” are as spastic and spit-soaked as The Bronx’s output in its feral infancy. But beneath that crusty chrysalis, something else has happened: The songwriting potential buried in earlier albums has erupted like an acne outbreak. On “Along For The Ride,” frontman Matt Caughthran’s raspy screech takes on an unprecedented melodicism, even as the tense, epic interplay between guitarists Joby Ford and Ken Horne tries to reconcile Rocket From The Crypt and Torche. Thankfully, that’s about as overreaching as (IV)’s ambition gets. The disc’s missteps come when earnestness and depth are taken a little too far, especially on the glum, drumless ballad “Life Less Ordinary.”
“Do you wanna die? / Or just come real close?” screams Caughthran with a sugary hook and a bloodcurdling sneer on “Along For The Ride.” The question isn’t asked in vain. During its formative years, The Bronx was known for its chaotic and occasionally self-destructive hijinks, both on and off the stage. It made for great punk theater, but that kind of brinksmanship by nature doesn’t have much of a future. Somehow, though, The Bronx has turned rage and desperation into a perpetual state of being—and (IV) into a monument not just of survival, but also evolution.