Every once in a great while, a work of art comes along of such shockingly immediate greatness that it demands a piece of eternity upon the moment of its arrival: Casablanca, or Toy Story, or Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, or Susanna Clarke's brilliant Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. And sometimes something comes along that's so damn terrific that it doesn't really matter how long it lasts, because it's so perfect for the moment, like The Living End's 2006 instant classic, State of Emergency.
The Living End are an Australian punkabilly trio that have been around for a little over a decade. Australia does well with rock trios -- the terrific You Am I, for example -- and the Living End live up to the great Australian rock tradition going back to the Saints, Radio Birdman, and the Easybeats. (And those AC/DC guys.) They're not particularly original in their sound; they started out worshiping the Stray Cats and now are closer to Green Day, whose lead singer distributed State of Emergency in America on his label.
But originality doesn't hold a candle to great songs, and this album has nothing but. Sonically, State of America plays like Smash by the Offspring: one fun punk blast after another until the album ends, way too soon. The three of them -- guitar, electric standup bass, drums -- produce a rich, melodic sound, the bass and drums forming a tight rhythm section behind lead guitarist, singer and songwriter Chris Cheney's riffs and verses. At its essence, it's power pop, but the hard edges haven't been smoothed away, just brightened with irresistible tunes and harmonies.
The album produced several singles in Australia, but "Long Live the Weekend" was the only one to get much play in America, earning repeated play on the syndicated show Little Steven's Underground Garage. That is indeed the best song on the album, but the other singles are terrific nuggets in their own right, "What's on Your Radio," "Wake Up," "Nothing Lasts Forever," and "'Til the End." Like the Buzzcocks' Singles Going Steady, or Smash, it's the opposite of a concept album: it's a bunch of great songs with a very similar sound, with no particular lyrical connection (except to the traditional punk themes of boredom, annoyance, paranoia, and danger), and each of which sounds like a 3-minute single.
There is some musical diversity within the set template: a metal solo on the title track, the midtempo melancholy of "Nothing Lasts Forever," the martial surety of "Order of the Day." But this isn't London Calling. They're not branching out. If anything, they're branching in. Uptempo, poppy, and loud, it's a perfect album for a drive, a workout, a quick mood lift. It's perfect.
It's not any more likely to be regarded as classic in a hundred years as it is today, but it will be as enjoyable as always. It's no Casablanca -- but I only watch Casablanca every couple years. I listen to this album a lot more frequently, and I smile every time.
*Error corrected above -- "the Saints, the Buzzcocks, and the Easybeats" was corrected to "the Saints, Radio Birdman, and the Easybeats." Thanks to Snig for pointing out the error.