It would be hard to take the Sass Dragons seriously, were it not for the quality of their recorded material. On stage, the fuck-all Chicago band comes across as a snotty, obnoxious, and somewhat sloppy band with more than a hint of frontman posturing. Of course, when reviewing a record called New Kids on the Bong, maybe one shouldn’t be heaping credit on the band for the artistic qualities of their recorded material either. Add the consideration that the band broke up just before I got around to reviewing this record and it seems somehow fitting of their mystique.
The Chicago band plays straight-up punk rock with a lot of influence from across the subgenre spectrum. Most predominant is an 80s mix of nihilism, sleaze, juvenile humor, and catchy refrains. What makes it more interesting, though, is that the band paces the album with ballads, acoustic songs and, yes, even cornball saxophone. Instead of pummeling with a dozen aggressive hits, they mix it up and this gives an extra oomph when they pick up the pace.
The first half dozen songs are straight-forward with melodic delivery and semi-serious commentary delivery through brash scenarios like “Put Your Hands On Me,” a song about stalking that features the line: “These handcuffs are just two oversized wedding rings.” Throughout the first part of the record, Freemason Jason’s smooth delivery carries the songs, where phantom Oo’s and Whoas wouldn’t be out of place, but the lyrics come in a story-style instead of a typical verse-chorus-verse. I hear shades of Blag Dahlia in the delivery and content, though it’s far more tongue-in-cheek.
“Jam It In” begins with a wonky guitar intro and a bit of shout-style singing that gives a harder edge and begins the record’s shift into less defined territory. Over the last half, the band covers everything from layered harmonies to acoustic ballads and dramatic glam-influenced guitars. “Rude Kitty,” a song that’s brilliantly sandwiched between two ballads, begins with an aggressive chanting of the title that works into a 1980s sounding hardcore song: short, fast, and stupid—all the while, it seems to be about his cat. On occasion, the varied techniques sound as if the band is parodying the punk scene’s many genres, but there’s a unifying sound that gives it more staying power than a novelty act. The lack of focus works to their advantage—while songs like “The Tails of Meow Meow-Fuck Fuck” and “White Girls” have little redeeming value beyond album pacing, they still serve a purpose. The album is definitely inconsistent, but it’s also definitely a keeper.