“I won’t be a casualty,” screeches Keith Morris in the song of the same name—one of 16 punk uppercuts that appear on Wasted Years, the third album by Off!. The supergroup formed in 2009, and since then Morris and crew have done their best to resurrect a narrowly specific sound: namely the snot-caked, cage-rattling tirades of Morris’ output in the late ’70s and early ’80s with Black Flag and Circle Jerks. In that sense, Off! has once again succeeded. With Morris sharpened even further by his recent touring with Flag, an ex-members tribute to Black Flag, Wasted Years pummels, writhes, and spits out a steady stream of vintage hardcore invective.
But Morris is still clinging a little too fanatically to history. The album’s title scans like a mashup of two Black Flag titles: the 1978 song “Wasted,” on which Morris sings, and the 1983 compilation album First Four Yours, on which “Wasted” appears. And as with previous Off! releases, there’s an ornery refusal to introduce anything remotely resembling a fresh approach. Guitarist Dimitri Coats hold up his end of the formula with admirable gusto, fusing the riffage of both Black Flag’s Greg Ginn and Circle Jerks’ Greg Hetson—clipped, jittery, and stinging—while carefully skirting the wanton chaos of his predecessors’ most unhinged work.
Morris, being his own predecessor, is in a different bind. At their best, his adenoidal screeds poke both ways, as self-annihilating as they are misanthropic—but here they too often fall into the cadence of canned catchphrases. “You’re a living punchline / And the joke is on you,” he pisses on “Red White And Black”; “We’re overrun by the uninformed,” he moans on “No Easy Escape.” His voice is as vital as ever. But the novelty of seeing the hardcore legend screaming once more at the top of his lungs, but have nothing new to say, has begun to wear thin. With the solid—and solidly predictable—Wasted Years, Morris has once again proven that he’s no punk-rock casualty. Sadly, Off! has the potential to do so much more than just scrape by on the scraps of his past.