After two EPs co-produced with the great Sean Glonek in less than a year, Trenton punks Doc Rotten return with their first full-length, “Illusion to Choose.”
The 12-song collection features five excellent new tracks produced by Bouncing Souls guitarist Pete Steinkopf at his Little Eden studio in Asbury Park and mastered by Glonek, plus the entire five-song Sick and Suffering EP and two of the best tracks from the four-song 2017 debut, Fallout. They are the upbeat “Better Days” and “Brass Tacks,” a nod to Joey Ramone and The Clash’s Joe Strummer that best demonstrates the band’s inventive use of harmonic, melodic backing vocals behind singer-guitarist Wes Bentley’s abrasive lead vox.
What I also really like about Doc Rotten is their songwriting. They write really tight, accessible but edgy songs, like The Ramones and Green Day, but far from wimpy pop-punk. It’s true punk, rooted in the tradition of The Ramones and The Clash, but unlike a lot of modern-day punk bands, the songwriting is focused and well-constructed.
The fantastic Illusion to Choose opens with the five new songs. First off is the metal-tinged “Mind Control,” a blast of nastiness that makes a statement about the need to unify in the face of hate and the shameful government and media that perpetuate it. The short but effective snarl ‘n’ sneer inspired the LP’s title with the lines: “The agendas of the news. The illusion to choose/Stop playing a victim of the system. We enabled this abuse.”
“Questions” is a funny, fascinating look at the dissolution of a relationship from the viewpoint of someone who wonders, “Should I leave, should I fight? Do you want to spend the night? And worry you’ll tell his friends?” His mind ends up so twisted that he has more questions than answers.
Whereas “Questions” looks at a breakup, “Snake” examines the dissolution of a friendship with a double crosser. It features a strong, searing, soaring solo by lead guitarist Andrew Keris.
The standout track is “So Long,” a rousing, rootsy Social Distortion-like anthem that is one of the best examples of Doc Rotten’s frequent use of the gang vocal, along with the great “Sick and Suffering.”
Whereas those new songs on “Illusion to Choose” are dark and at times disturbing, the last of the bunch, “Hold Fast,” is hopeful. The duet between Keris and Bentley is a tale about moving forward at a rapid pace, which is exactly what Doc Rotten are doing. Shortly after their Aug. 31 record release party at their home base of Mill Hill Basement with Hot Blood, Sophistipunx, Offensive Threat and Erin Incoherent, the band — also drummer A.J. Martinez and bassist Robert “Scrotes” Richardson — will embark on a two-month trek of Japan and Europe. Joining them will be their pal Dim from Honah Lee on guitar.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.