To Live in Discontent collects all of the odds and ends that Strike Anywhere have accumulated over their six-or-so year existence, including the best existing versions of the songs that appeared on their Chorus of One EP, their single for the Fat Wreck Chords singles club, their 1999 demo CDR and a couple of other rare tracks, some of which haven’t been released at all. I was actually at Strike Anywhere’s first show, and it’s weird to think that this band has gone on long enough to be one of the most well-known and well-loved bands in the underground and that they’ve actually reached the stage where their truly merit this kind of archival release. In a scene where, more often than not, my favorite bands break up before I ever get to see them, it’s been amazing watching Strike Anywhere grow over the years.
In fact, while I thought the songs collected here were pretty much the best hardcore tunes written in the past 10-15 years when they originally came out, the thing that strikes me most about To Live in Discontent on the first listen is how much better Strike Anywhere have gotten since the very early recordings collected here. Sure, "Chorus of One" and "Cassandratic Equation" still have an undeniable power, spontenaeity and youthful exuberance, but these records are nowhere near the unstoppable beast that the band would record with Exit English.
In terms of the previously-released material that appears here, more than likely you already have this stuff, as Strike Anywhere had free mp3 downloads of all of these songs on their web site until fairly recently. However, if you haven’t heard the recorded versions, they’re the songs you saw the people going completely nuts to when the band plays live. Right from the beginning, these guys knew how to write a hardcore anthem that had the crew choruses and the "oi oi oi’s" in all the right places, and I have a feeling that young bands are going to be ripping into these songs to close their sets long after Strike Anywhere has called it a day.
The real reason to pick up To Live in Discontent, though, is the four unreleased tracks that are packed away toward the end of the disc. The first is "Two Fuses," an outtake from Exit English; while it’s a solid enough song, you can definitely tell how it got to the cutting-room floor as it’s not only inherently weaker than any of the songs released on Exit English, it just doesn’t fit with the general vibe of that record. It’s also just an awkward song that, for some reason or another, just doesn’t seem to work.
The other three unreleased tracks are all covers. Their version of Gorilla Biscuits’ "Two Sides" isn’t so much a Strike Anywhere track as Matt and Thomas from SA jamming with some of the guys from New Mexican Disaster Squad, and while I’m definitely a fan of NMDS the playing on that track is a step down from the way Strike Anywhere just seem to naturally gel as a band. Secondly, SA cover Dag Nasty’s "Values Here," a song I’ve seen them do numerous times live. Unlike the other two covers on To Live in Discontent, neither of which I think quite come off, "Values Here" is perfect for Strike Anywhere; they don’t really change anything, but the twin guitar melody and bellicose vocal lines are perfectly suited to the band’s style. The album closes with a cover of Cock Sparrer’s "Where Are They Now?" that finds Strike Anywhere unusually tepid and unsure of themselves, probably a result of the extremely slow (for them) tempo. Still, it’s a fun enough version and definitely not lackluster enough to warrant skipping.
The only real regrets I have about To Live in Discontent are that they didn’t include the 99 demo in its entirety (which would have involved several songs appearing twice) since I always really liked the sound of Thomas’s vocals on that recording and that they didn’t record (or at least chose not to release) the Four Walls Falling cover that I saw them play live several times very early on. Even more than Avail (whose name always gets dropped in Strike Anywhere reviews), Four Walls Falling really provided the blueprint for Strike Anywhere’s sound, and a well-recorded and well-performed cover version could have moved a lot of kids to check out the amazing Culture Shock LP and maybe even spur Four Walls to do another reunion show. However, To Live in Discontent is probably a better record the way it is, and there’s no way you could ever talk about shortcomings when this thing is actually blaring out of your stereo.