Uniform Choice - Staring Into The Sun
Christmas 1988 my mom asked me what I wanted, I picked 3 albums; Boogie Down Productions - By Any Means Necessary, 7 Seconds - Walk Together Rock Together with the re-done cover art by Pushead (had the original version on cassette) and Uniform Choice - Staring Into The Sun. I already had Uniform Choice's - Screaming For Change LP and the Region Of Ice EP and although I liked Screaming For Change much more than Region Of Ice, I still sort of liked at least 2 out of the 3 songs. Because I generally liked Region Of Ice, I was optimistic about Staring Into The Sun, hell... I even bought an A Wish To Dream shirt prior.
So anyway, Christmas comes, I get all three records (I picked them out, so there wasn't much of a chance of me not getting them), brought them to my room, took a seat on my bed and listened to each. The B.D.P. record, I loved it beginning to end, 7 Seconds, already knew it well and loved it, but finally had it on vinyl, then came Staring Into The Sun... hmmm... interesting. Sounded like they put a couple of the more hardcore sounding songs on Region Of Ice. Dubar's voice... although it wasn't bad and still sounded great at times, I wasn't all that into some of the rock ballads and his attempt at singing them. Musically some of the tracks were pretty damn good and still heavily hardcore sounding (Cut of a Different Cause, I Am... You Are, etc.), but the drum sound and the production... oh man the production... what a bum out. Aside from some of the music, some of the vocals and the production, the look of this record was also a bum out. The cover looked like it could have been used for a Rush album, the back cover with the rose and barbed wire fence, although not terrible, not particularly great either. I did like the gatefold and the large photo of the band members silhouettes and of course the live photos were pretty cool as well, but all in all, this record was pretty much a let down and got limited play on my stereo. I guess if you compare it to Screaming For Change, it falls very short, but then again, if you compare a lot of records to Screaming For Change, they fall short too. Ultimately in my opinion, following up Screaming For Change was Staring Into The Sun's biggest short coming.
When Gordo told me he wanted to wanted to do this piece on this record I was definltey into it because I know he's got a real knack for breaking down and dissecting records like no other. Although I may not share his opinion on everything, I can definitely respect it and at least be entertained by it. Hopefully you the readers can do the same. -Tim DCXX
Pat Dubar with Staring Into The Sun era UC at City Gardens, Photo: Ken Salerno
Since day one, Tim and I have wanted to get Pat Dubar on here for a definitive UC interview. No question, part of that interview would be discussing the Uniform Choice post-Screaming For Change era that has become lengendary fodder for snickering...the era where bic bald heads were covered with long flowing hair, 4 sided Use Your Head shirts were traded in for denim button downs with tassels, and songs about screaming for change and staying straight and alert were replaced with songs about taking long drinks of silence and vast regions of ice. It's one of the most discussed transformations in the history of straight edge hardcore, the "about face" that has been blasted by so many people. And the epitome of this drastic band growth/transformation punches you right in the face every time you look at and listen to the band's 1988 follow-up LP, Staring Into The Sun. It's no secret that many people despise this record.
But I'm here to defend it to the fullest and explain what I love it, and why you should too.
First, let me clarify that I was born in 1982 and I grew up in Pennsylvania...so I am surely not trying to come off as some Orange County dude who was going off at the very first ever Unity practice, ok? If you feel that my life position automatically invalidates what I'm about to write, then please move along. I'm simply going on my own observations, and all the great HC tales and folklore that has come my way through the years.
John Mastropaolo on bass for UC at City Gardens, Photo: Ken Salerno
Second, let me say that I LOVE everything UC did up until Staring Into The Sun. I'm not arguing that the original demo material or Screaming For Change isn't great. No question: UC circa 1984-1986 is some of the best HC ever. I'm also not saying that Staring Into The Sun is a better record (though I have said this in the past to spark a little controversy amongst friends). But I am saying that I love this 1988 record, it makes perfect sense to me, and I probably listen to it more than any of the band's other material. Ultimately, I think my favorite UC recording is one I have never heard: the elusive demo of Staring Into The Sun songs that was recorded after Screaming For Change, but before the actual Staring Into The Sun LP. I have heard this described by Joe Nelson as being "more HC versions" of those second LP songs, and to me it sounds perfect (and if anyone has this, please get in touch, I will pay good money just to hear it). But for now, let's focus on the controversial second record.
For starters, you have the record cover itself. I'd have to say that even though I love this record, the artwork is a total weak point. Considering the great imagery that was always associated with Wishingwell, with great color combinations, design cues, and just that awesome west coast "seasonal" vibe, it seems like the cover of Staring Into The Sun got outsourced to someone completely disconnected who wanted to make it just look like safe commercial rock. I can see the description for the cover that was given to the band when they got it back from the designer, "gentlemen, please find enclosed artwork. Per your request, drawn is a large strange red eye, devoid of any eyelashes above the eye, that is shooting down hot retina juice from the clouds on what appears to be grey, stone like figures that are gathered to discuss varying neck problems. We worked on this piece for a total of 4 minutes and are certain you will be happy with it." Twenty years later, it just looks like the type of LP you blow past in a dollar bin, possibly only looking at the back cover to see if there is in fact a unicorn running away from a castle, as you may expect from the front image. This is unfortunate for a band that visually could have had such a strong impact with this LP. Getting past that, the rest of the artwork isn't that bad. I'm sure people were floored to see the inside of the gatefold and find the long haired, standing-on-rocks-at-sundown photos where a plethora of denim and boots are visible (if the last thing they saw from UC was Screaming For Change). I think it's perfect. In fact, I think that type of thing should have been on the cover.
Uniform Choice - Region Of Ice
On to the music..."Indian Eyes" kicks things off. This song was also released on the Region Of Ice EP, which came out before this LP and was two Staring Into The Sun LP songs as well as the track "I Am...You Are," which is pretty much an older style UC thrasher that really should have appeared on this LP too. As an album opener, Dubar's first line, "I remember never letting pain remain," seems to clearly signify that this is a group of guys that have obviously transitioned to a different time and place from where they were in 1985. Some have said they turned into soft, money hungry long hair rockers with hopes of an audience outside of hardcore by the time this record hit. I can't say exactly what the reality was, but I know enough to say that I'm pretty sure that even with a velvet vest and skin tight Wranglers, Pat Dubar was still capable of beating your ass and probably stealing your girlfriend. Does that even make sense? Umm, anyways, that's the cool thing about this era of UC...they weren't pussies. The songs are what they are, but I still perceive images of dudes who would smash your face in if you stole their wave or threw a bottle at the stage. But yeah, "Indian Eyes" is to UC what "The Night Away" is to 7Seconds, and I think it's a great opener for what is on this record.
Next, "Same Train" rings through your speakers, and I have always heard a real Brian Baker "Wig Out" vibe in this song (not that this is news with UC on this record, in some ways to me it is the west coast counterpart to that second Dag LP). The best part of this song to me is the bridge and then the sing-alongy chrous, it's just classic introspective Dubar that comes out again and again in these songs...the formula here seems to be to take the sing along in "Use Your Head" (you know, the line "Times change, and people change..."), slow it down a notch, and really sing it and "sell" it as much as possible. Whether or not you think that actually works is up to you, but I think that for the style it is a bullet-proof recipe that gets exploited to the fullest in some of these songs.
"Staring Into The Sun" is the third song and the title track. My guess is that this was one of the last tracks written for this record, considering the record was originally gonna be called "A Wish To Dream," and stylistically, this is one of their more "progressive" songs - with acoustic guitars, wind chimes, and dream catchers lurking all over the place. It just seems to have that vibe where maybe Maynez showed up at practice one day and said "dudes, I know we weren't gonna record any more songs, but check this shit out, it's the perfect mix of The Cult, U2, and 7Seconds," and everyone totally dug it. I'm most likely totally off on that, but that's my guess. Around the two minute mark in this song, the whole thing changes into a different type of jam for a second, and it is just more classic later era UC with Dubar's vocals at his best. Definitely one of the absolute "softest" on here.
Uniform Choice - A Wish To Dream sticker and T-Shirt art
"A Wish To Dream" showcases some of Dubar's older style vocal power...at times he actually sounds pissed and like he may still have giant tattered X's on his hands, and the whole number is pretty straight forward without any strong hints of strange footwear, buffalo soldier style trench coats, or any other various later-period UC trickery that people associate with this record. Again, my guess was that this may have been an older UC tune that was held onto for this LP. It works.
Moving on, "She's Locked In" sounds like it was straight up influenced by later-era Scream, mixed The Breakfast Club soundtrack. If I was told that UC was approached by John Hughes to write a tune for Say Anything 2, I would completely believe it. And the funny thing is, this may be my favorite song on here. Just a great "bummed out because of a girl" type of song...you can almost picture Dubar walking on the beach late in the afternoon wearing a black t-shirt, dog tags, and a lot of interesting necklaces and looking at old photos of his ex as he's singing this shit. And the best part is the echo-vocal outro on top of Longrie's ludicrously reverbed drums...it just screams 1987 radio pop, I love it.
Pat Longrie on the drums, UC at City Gardens, Photo: Ken Salerno
"Region Of Ice" re-appears from the Region Of Ice seven inch, and I'm saying this should have been the album opener. This song rips up and down, start to finish. It's the absolute perfect blend of UC old and new...Dubar sounds 110% into it, just that pissed, earnest, frustrated vocal sound with all of those signature "deep" parts. Maynez gets some much-deserved shine time with a great semi-face melter that just envokes visions of him putting one foot up on the Fender's stage monitors and laying into it as people in the crowd try to grab his guitar in excitement. Girl issues seem to be the catalyst again here too, I don't know what these little ladies did to my man, but he was definitely not happy about it when these tunes got penned. But it made for some great tunes, this being one of the best.
"Cut Of A Different Cause" is a straight up hardcore song that just shreds. I have never known if this was just left over from the Screaming For Change album or what, but I think this is one of best straight ahead HC rippers UC ever wrote. When kids today decide they wanna do a 1987 style melodic OC hardcore style band, they should just reference this song. Easily an album highlight.
"Miles Ahead" is definitely the later UC sound these guys were totally after when this record came out. Tons of melody, strange whispering, Pacific Ocean surfer vibes, Maynez showboating, bandanas and non-ironic berets, classic sung back-ups, and just a dash of some signature Dubar gruffness.
Dubar and Mastropaolo at City Gardens, Photo: Ken Salerno
"What Is Stone" definitely is one of the more HC jams on here, and while it isn't a break-neck thrasher, it proves that even on this record these guys can still tear - especially Longrie, who really doesn't get mentioned enough as a GREAT drummer - dude is super tight, has a really fast right foot (and hands for that matter), and isn't at all afraid to mix it up. Same goes with his beat-counterpart, Dave Mello, who was a hell of a bass player. If this whole album was made up of tunes like this, you would honestly have a much different record. Am I the only one who thinks that this song could have been the soundtrack during the beach volleyball scene in Top Gun had it been written a few years earlier? Ok, maybe that would give it a strange sexual slant that goes along with that scene, but whatever, that's what I hear.
"Long Drink Of Silence" reverts back to that acoustic intro/U2 meets The Cult/blasting down the Pacific Coast Highway in a CJ7 Jeep type of vibe. Again, the song seems to hit on the loss of a female. I'm always picturing that the girl being written about in these tunes was some hot brunette 80s style chick that did modeling for O'Neil and was just OC personified. It's also a fitting album closer, ending on signature Maynez high notes and Longrie bashing.
Region Of Ice back cover
To me it is sad that this record seems to be loved by a few and ignored by many. I honestly think that if the vibe and look of the band was a bit more low-key, it was an official Wishingwell release with more classic styled UC artwork, and maybe just a couple parts in the music were swapped out, this would be a much more respected rockish HC album...dare I say a classic. UC is such an important band in the history of HC and it has always bummed me out that this record is such a black eye, and that UC really gets reduced to being considered a "one record band" because of it.
Then again, I know I am clearly in the minority, and a lot of their (tarnished) legacy has to do with how many in the HC scene felt that UC really just changed way too much for their own good at this time and was on a totally different trip.
Whatever the story was, I have had a soft spot for this record since I first heard it. To me, great music takes you to another place and puts you "in" the song and the story. As absolutely ridiculous as I know this sounds, every time I listen to this while driving at night when the weather is warm and the windows are down, I automatically think it is 1987 and I am wearing Ray Bans and blasting down Beach Boulevard in a black '67 big block Corvette to a really cool and weird party with a ton of hot girls in Huntington Beach, thinking about how I need to grow my hair out longer and do a band that is a mix of The Cult's "Love" and Can I Say. It's just so simple and clear, and damn it seems so cool. And that's why I love this record. - Gordo DCXX
Longrie getting aggro, Photo: Ken Salerno
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Posted by DOUBLE CROSS at 6:10 PM