Classics of love
make a dark day light
If you don’t believe the words then just look into their eyes"
- Common Rider, 1999
Like a crystal-clear prophecy, self-fulfilled by a resolute thrust of momentum and passion, Jesse Michaels has returned to making music. After five years without a band, Classics of Love has found the former Operation Ivy, Common Rider and Big Rig frontman joining the entire cast of Hard Girls to rip forth a new set of urgently delivered punk, nascent and sprightly, but with 20 years of substantive seasoning underpinning its foundation.
As each project Michaels has unveiled throughout the years has sounded considerably different than what preceded it, it should come as no surprise that Classics of Love is no “part two” of any earlier bands. Sure, there are elements of past work in the sound of the present -- the burning exigency of “Don’t Stand Down” smacks slightly of Big Rig while “Slow Car Crash” invokes memories of This is Unity Music outtakes -- but the sonic depth and brooding chord patterns are unlike anything from Michaels’ archives.
The angular “Countdown” begins choppy and unsteady, lifting off the EP with a half-step progression before the anthemic chorus explodes like a rocket, soaring for a few bars before returning to the shifty verse and speculative presentiment. “No Return” is perhaps the disc’s catchiest and most straightforward, seemingly in the same vein as Common Rider’s “Rise or Fall,” or to paraphrase Michaels, “I used to drink a lot and it was a lot of fun. And then it stopped being fun, and then I stopped drinking, though I’m not suggesting everyone should do that.”
The title track bobs and pops, grazing past reggae, punk and hip-hop without ever firmly latching on to any such style on the EP’s most rhythmic cut. In a Q & A with Michaels in 2007, he contested “Punk is, as far as I am concerned, the greatest form of rock & roll but it is not the ONLY form.” This sentiment seems to radiate on “Time Flies,” which bears more resemblance to the Who than the Clash, while still packing energy that matches the rest of the songs. The highlight “Don’t Stand Down” finds more contemporary parallels in acts like the Observers and Red Dons while showcasing Morgan Herrell’s ballsy bassline and the melodic poetry fans of Operation Ivy and Common Rider have come to expect: “In this book of years we read there are no torn-out pages / We watched waves of fear and dread proclaimed by our own state sages / Everyone becomes content with lesser joys / Maybe now it’s time to disclaim the national noise.”
Dressed in stunningly minimalist artwork done by Michaels himself, this six-song set can stand alone as yet another qualitatively great contribution to music from the Berkeley native. However, one can’t help but hope this is only a taste of what’s to come for Classics of Love, and that there is still plenty of more music from this group to follow.