Sound: Keeping true to the origins of punk rock, The Briggs' third full-length album has few frills and is straight forward in its approach, which just may be their ace in the hole. While many punk bands out these days have morphed with other genres -- be it metal or pop -- The Briggs' Back To Higher Ground has a quality that recalls an older sound similar to The Clash. There are few frills on Back To Higher Ground, and the punk purists will be able to appreciate the back-to-basics approach.
That Briggs' (vocalist/guitarist Joey LaRocca, guitarist Jason LaRocca, drummer Chris X, and bassist Ryan D. Roberts) Clash influence is probably most evident through vocalist LaRocca's delivery. The singer has a tinge of The Clash's Joe Strummer in his voice in certain moments, particularly when a British accent suddenly pops up at times. The trend is most evident in the opening title track Back To Higher Ground. The slight change in voice does make the CD a bit more interesting, particularly in sections where the underlying guitar chords gets stuck in a predictable progression.
The band doesn't have to rely on The Clash at all times and have songs that have musical merit on their own. The standout track is Common And Unknown which has an infectious melody that hits you from the start. If there is one song that screams anthem, this is the one. Although slower in tempo, the chorus has the same kind of infectious quality that The Living End created with its classic Prisoner Of Society. The song begins immediately with the chorus rather than the usual intro, which is a smart move in that it allows listeners to become familiar with the melody from the get-go. Another nice touch is how the end of the verse seems to melt into the chorus. The layered vocals gives the effect that there is no break between the verse and chorus, keeping the song continuously moving.
The Briggs may not be unique enough for some listeners, particularly because the band does tend to have a classic punk sound. There are many whoas featured in songs, an element that has been used multiple times throughout punk rock history. The band also tends to use chord progressions that don't vary a great deal and might not hold the interest of today's audiences. There are a few moments where The Briggs dabble in reggae rhythms and even slide guitar, but those instances actually don't alter the songs that they're in to a noticeable degree. // 8
Lyrics: There are plenty of songs on Back To Higher Ground that have calls for action in one sense or another, working well with The Briggs' musical style. In Let Them Know, vocalist Joey LaRocca sends out a plea to combat the status quo. He sings, Revolution can be more than a dream; In a flash of brilliant light; Millions upon millions can be seen; The pressure's building up. Musically the song does feel extremely anthem-like in its construction, so lyrics LaRocca's urging of societal change fits well.
While most of the lyrics on the CD do tend to carry a similar theme -- usually regarding fighting ignorance and a call for change -- the band often has interesting way of expressing them. In Back To Higher Ground, LaRocca could have chosen to describe the disintegration of hope in many ways, but he chose a visual that was close to home. He sings, Hope can dry up like the L.A. River; But droughts never last forever; A thirst for more is just human nature. With the band hailing from Los Angeles, it's encouraging to know that lyric-writer LaRocca did indeed write about what he knows. // 8
Overall Impression: The main problem with The Briggs' latest CD is that it may be too much of a one-note offering for fans of the newer school of punk. The sound of The Briggs is nothing that hasn't been done before, and with most of the songs sticking to the same format, it may bore some listeners.
But all in all, what is probably most important about Back To Higher Ground is the spirit behind it. Like any great punk record, it's the feeling that is being conveyed. The Ramones did not necessarily create musical compositions that astounded listeners, but they were still adored for what they represented and their passion. While The Briggs are not up to the legendary status of The Ramones, Back To Higher Ground is one that traditional punk fans will find a breath of fresh air in today's music scene. // 8