Despite only recording two full length albums of original material between 1996-2012, Chicago punks The Vindictives have secured a cult following. This is due in part to their having shared members with Screeching Weasel (including Ben himself). Most of their legacy seems to revolve around punk fans’ love/hate relationship with their 1998 re-recording of Ramones’ ‘Leave Home’: in a controversial move, the band not only changed the running order, but also took it upon themselves to substantially alter lots of the arrangements. Ben Weasel once claimed he would never listen to it in case “Joey [Vindictive] has somehow ruined the best punk album of all time”. Perhaps ruined is a strong word, but it really wasn’t very good – certainly not as good as Weasel’s own cover of Ramones, or Mr T Experience’s take on ‘Road To Ruin’. It’s biggest problem was not its various musical embellishments but – like most recordings by The Vindictives – Joey Vindictive’s nasal delivery.
After ten year absence, the band returned to recording in 2012, ending the year with the ‘Mono Flexi’ EP – their thirteenth 7” release. A coloured flexi-disc (with a digital download for ease of listening), with the tunes recorded in mono, it could be accused of mere gimmickry, especially given the lack of quality evident on some of The Vindictives’ prior releases. Surprisingly, though, a couple of these tunes are half-decent.
Best of all, ‘Shrinkerhead’ is classic punk pop, capitalising on a solid Ramones-esque riff and call and response vocal on the chorus. The general tone suits Joey’s delivery and despite the patchiness of The Vindictives’ past works, it’s unlikely that Dan Vapid or Ben Foster would have achieved better musical results with any of their projects. Even more tuneful, the mid-paced ‘Nightmare, Man’ includes some superb guitar lines and a vocal that leans farther towards late 70s power pop/new wave than Ramones-obsessed punk. The music is great, the wordless backing harmonies even greater, while the understated lead vocal is one of Joey’s best. There’s a brief bridge section with an out-of-place almost cartoonish approach, but that can easily be overlooked.
The other pair of tunes are less fortunate. ‘Touch It’ features a superb bassline and pleasing 50s rock ‘n’ roll twang in the guitar depot and, as such, is far from terrible, but the enjoyable moments are often quashed by Vindictive’s misjudged yelping. Still, at a minute and a quarter, it’s over quickly enough. Beginning with muted guitar motifs before blossoming into a classic punk chord progression, ‘Join The Circus’ seems as if it’s going to be another winner…and then it falls flat. Aside from the main riff, there’s nothing much to enjoy here – Joey’s voice is more nasal than usual, while the chorus is irritating (probably designed that way on purpose) and the inclusion of circus theme music (‘Entrance of the Gladiators’ played as a sloppy guitar interlude) just pushes goodwill too far.
Based on this release, The Vindictives aren’t always as shoddy as parts of their 7”-heavy back-cat would suggest. However, despite sparks of brilliance, it’s likely they’re always destined to be considered a second division outfit. Since this comeback only offers four numbers – two of which aren’t much to write home about – they’ve not put in enough hard-yards to make a long-lasting impression. After such a long time, surely a full-length wouldn’t have been too much to ask for?