The future of Lookout Records is shrouded in disaster and uncertainty, but if the iconic Berkeley label's split with Green Day and subsequent near-total collapse indeed means the end of the line, it's been a long, strange trip of an entirely different sort. Here are a few releases that have shaped the label's legacy and gradual evolution. And never fear: It's not time to hit the Boulevard of Broken Dreams quite yet.
Neurosis, The Word as Law (1990)
Lookout didn't dabble much in the harder stuff, and Neurosis didn't dabble much with Lookout, bouncing around a bit labelwise before building Neurot, an atmospheric crypto-metal empire/imprint of its very own. Bigger, better, more menacing peaks soon followed, but Law is a spry, bass-heavy early adventure ideal for thrashers who dig choking on lies and fear/worship/become machines lyrical imagery. Key jam: Antitechnology screed "To What End?"
Operation Ivy, Energy (1991)
The perfect Lookout album. Nothing better splits the difference between the Gilman warehouse's distinctive scent and the looming Teenage Mall of America. Even folks who cringe at the word "Bosstone" still praise Op Ivy's ska-punk majesty, forward-thinking enough to birth an entire genre and talented enough to craft a record/swan song so great that that genre became instantly passé. Key jam: "Unity," still unstoppable.
Green Day, Kerplunk (1992)
Now that Green Day fares best at weepy ballads, it's odd to return to the old stuff and realize these boneheads sounded "mature" before they ever feigned immaturity for MTV. Kerplunk's obnoxious jokey stuff (a "Dominated Love Slave" here, a "My Generation" cover there) falls pancake-flat, but the yearning, oddly nostalgic slower tunes are credible and adept for kids so young. Key jam: "No One Knows."
Crimpshrine, Duct Tape Soup (1992)
Praised as "the best band to come out of the Gilman/Lookout scene" by future label star Ben Weasel, Crimpshrine specialized in a harsher, more cynical take on the Op Ivy/Green Day worldview. Duct Tape flaunts some fantastically overplayed bass fills and drum rolls (the latter courtesy Aaron Cometbus) to offset the bummed-out lyrical dourness of "Safely Wasting Away" and "Fucked Up Kid." Key jam: A not particularly sunny "Summertime."
Screeching Weasel, Anthem for a New Tomorrow (1993)
Chicago pop-punk scion Ben Weasel was undoubtedly Lookout's snottiest-sounding frontman, and that's evident from opener "I'm Gonna Strangle You" to marquee ballad "Claire Monet," which talks about a former scenester who grew up, got married, and had kids as though she were dead -- I'd rather think of her the way she was, Ben (warmly) sneers. I guess this is growing up. Key jam: Ignore the keyboards on "Peter Brady" and it's alright.
The Queers, Don't Back Down (1996)
These dudes are aggressively crass -- "No Tit" is the leadoff hitter here, and it only got worse over time (choruses of Danny Vapid ain't a faggot, etc.). Unfortunately, these Ramones-worshipping pop-punk gems are too startling to ignore -- the title track is a masterful Beach Boys cover, and many of the tunes surrounding it sound like the Beach Boys covering them. The Queers will go down as the Lookout band that never grew up. Good. Key jam: "I'm Okay, You're Fucked."
The Mr. T Experience, Revenge Is Sweet, and So Are You (1997)
The worst you can say about Mr. T mastermind Dr. Frank: His too-clever-by-three-quarters album and song titles ("The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful") single-handedly caused the emo "Let's give our album/song/band a name that's actually a sentence" craze. But this ain't Fall Out Boy -- "Love Is Dead" is as monstrous a pop-punk anthem as Lookout ever sired, and Frank has been a consistent fount of creativity since time immemorial. Coming next year: his first novel. Key jam: "Hell of Dumb," a gleeful skewering of Bay Area's slang's Public Enemy No. 1.
The Donnas, Get Skintight (1999)
Say what you will, but these gals are Lookout's most quotable songwriters by orders of magnitude, leading off the album with I saw you standing by the Slurpee machine, and peaking, gloriously, with You thought I would be broken-hearted/Maybe I would if you weren't so retarded. This is party rock at its finest. Key jam: "Get Out of My Room."
Ted Leo/Pharmacists, Shake the Sheets (2004)
Ted's rousing, riotously literate, political party-rock is the label's saving grace in the 21st century, as inspiring and energetic as anything Pitchfork pushes. All three of his Lookout full-lengths are essential, but Shake's atomic blast "Little Dawn" makes the label all-time top five list in what remains a tremendously crowded and talented field. Key jam: Duh.
Hockey Night, Keep Guessin' (2005)
Well, this certainly ain't Green Day -- this nascent Minnesota crew is more into the scruffy indie pop of a little band we like to call Pavement. But it's wide-eyed and inventive and joyful in way old-guard Lookout enthusiasts would certainly recognize. Let's hope these guys don't need a new label. Key jam: "For Guys' Eyes Only."
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