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March 21, 2006

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3 out of 5 stars

In the world of punk rock, 14 years is, no pun intended, a lifetime. 1992’s so far removed from the happenings of 2006, it’s hard even to remember the impact that Lifetime had when its first album, Background came out. Although the notion of melody in hard-edged punk music was nothing new, Lifetime injected a melodic sense into East Coast hardcore/punk in a way that turned heads, made fans and set the stage for bands such as Good Riddance, Strike Anywhere and dozens of other acts.

Now, Lifetime didn’t invent the melodic-punk thing at all, but it sure put the two ends together, using a dose of street-rat sincerity and progressive positivism to launch a brief career that’d earn the outfit a place in the underground’s heart almost as revered as that of Jawbreaker or Minor Threat. On Somewhere in the Swamps of Jersey, Jade Tree rounds up the act’s 1992 debut, Broken, a horde of live cuts, a few B-sides, and alternate mixes and a few 7-inch singles. It’s a reminder of why Lifetime – and to a lesser extent, the bands that followed in its wake – made such an impact on the punk underground.

Broken wasn’t the band’s best effort (for that, turn to Jade Tree’s 1995 pressing of Hello Bastards), but it still stands up remarkably well. Lifetime was still finding its feet when it headed into the studio for this album; consequently, many of the songs lack some of the sophistication of later tunes. That doesn’t diminish their impact. Tracks like “Myself,” “You” and “Background,” with their simultaneously sticky-sweet and hard-and-jagged guitars and anthemic vocals, helped kick-start an East Coast punk scene that recognized that a dose of pop melodies didn’t necessarily preclude keeping your heart and motivations in the right spot.

The odds’n’sods section of the album, which collects tracks that surfaced on the Lifetime and Tinnitus 7-inches cuts up another dose of Lifetime, and collects the material that surfaced on two previous editions of The Seven Inches, effectively bringing all of Lifetime’s catalog under the Jade Tree roof.

Jade Tree gets a little carried away in its fanaticism for all things Lifetime, however, including alternate mixes, which, really aren’t considerably different enough for anyone but the biggest fan-boy to notice, for virtually all of the tracks on Background, as well as nearly half the cuts on the band’s swan song, 1997’s Jersey’s Best Dancers (1997, Jade Tree). Coupled with an early live set that covers the same ground – for the third time on this two-disc set – as Background, it’s hard not to feel as if a large part of Somewhere in the Swamps of Jersey is stuffed full of padding and/or collectors-only material.

A too-inclusive track list or not – a standard reissue of the original running length of Background would be nice, too – Somewhere in the Swamps of Jersey nonetheless takes early Lifetime songs out of the hands of eBay price-gougers and back into realms of affordability. With a band like Lifetime, who can complain about that?


Matt Schild