I was apprehensive about reviewing this record. When hear “music by teenagers,” it tends to mean preachy and rather one-sided political rants that are well meaning but, well, immature or not all that developed. Plus teenage voices aren’t all that great to hear singing, know what I mean?
The Lookouts were a band comprised of Larry Livermore (not a teenager at the time, to my understanding), Kain Kong, and Tré Cool (Green Day), from 1985-1990. They were teenagers and it sometimes shows as in the off-key “Oh ohs” of “California/Mendocino,” where their voices haven’t dropped that register yet. There’s also a prevailing theme through the 24 songs here about being stuck in a small town with no escape, a definite element of that age group, at least in my own experience. I don’t know much about Mendocino, CA, but after listing to Spy Rock Road (And Other Stories), it’s a pretty bleak place, filled with aging hippies, off the grid weirdoes, and the usual mainstream banality.
Not only were the Lookouts fronted by Larry Livermore, who then formed Lookout Records, but they also lay a foundation for said label. There are offbeat and quirky love struck pop songs like “That Girl’s From Outer Space” or “I Saw Her Standing There” and East Bay bass walking jams like “Out My Door” and “Living Behind Bars.” They mix things up a lot, though, unlike some Lookout stereotypes later on in time. All 24 songs here are quite varied, from the Dead Kennedys-esque “Generation” and “Wild” to the rumbling and frantic songs like “Agape” and “The Green Hills of England” which remind me of a band some twenty years later, Night Birds.
While it sounds, at times, like kids playing songs, it never sounds bad or “amateur.” It’s consistent start to finish, which is a real accomplishment for a compilation record of a DIY release from that era, with even mixing levels and smooth transitions. It doesn’t have that point where on most discography releases, you hit song #20 and it suddenly sounds like it was recorded on a tape recorder in their garage. What really stands out across Spy Rock Stories is just how the Lookout Records scene developed. There’s no cookie cutter pop punk here, but varied and gritty songs that use pop simplicity to convey a message and burn a hook in your brain, while delivering sociopolitical commentary through a personal point of view. It’s relatable and memorable, with a charming lower-fi everyman twist, and many bands later on used the same formula.
The best songs here are “I Saw Her Standing There,” which has shades of early Green Day, but it’s faster and much rougher around the edges, dropped down a key with the pop layered round of “Whoa-oh” chorus buried in the mayhem. “Living Behind Bars” is another standout, representing that gritty East Bay filter atop catchy pop. Tim Armstrong of Operation Ivy plays guitar on the track, and it shares some real similarity with said band’s non-ska songs. The social commentary is a bit too direct, but the melody makes up for it. The Lookouts have serious moments but, in the end, it’s music about finding an escape from daily troubles instead of saving the world. As they shout rather directly in “Kick Me in the Head.”
Kick me in the head/
Play that music loud/
Speaking out and having fun/
That’s what it’s all about
7.8 / 10
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