On the Offensive is a six song EP of political covers from Champaign's Poster Children. However the concept of "political covers" should not scare you. Despite the description, this EP isn't explicitly against any one politician (except perhaps the late Ronald Reagan). Rather, On the Offensive is presented in something of a vacuum. With this in mind, therefore, I'm going to throw the political context to the side and look at this solely on musical terms.
On the Offensive begins with Clampdown by The Clash. Historically, this is not one of my favorites songs by The Clash. However, that's more a function of the qualities of so many other songs, as opposed to any inherent weakness in this particular one. Anyway, the Poster Children perform what at first seems to be a fairly faithful cover. However, upon further reflection, I immediately realized that the tempo is faster, the sound is fuller, and Matt from the Poster Children is a stronger and more forceful drummer than anyone from The Clash ever thought of being. In short, their version of Clampdown reflects the way most people remember the original, which is why it perhaps seems so faithful on the surface.
The next song is We Don't Need This Fascist Groove Thang, originally by Heaven 17. In this case, I'm not familiar with the original, so I can't really comment on how this version compares. As it is, the Poster Children create a driving, guitar-driven (albeit with prominent keyboard effects) tune that recalls much early 80s, post-punk British rock. It's a bit too fast to act effectively as a dance track, but the anthemic chorus still could easily inspire people to shout along with the band.
And then comes song number three, The New World. I have to state upfront that X are easily one of my favorite bands and More Fun in the New World (the album which The New World opens) is my favorite X album. With that in mind, I was immediately struck by the fact that, while musically this version is fairly accurate, the laconic vocals of John Doe are sorely missed. Although it sounds like he's trying to ape Doe's tone, Rick Valentin just doesn't have the drawl or sheer emotive power. However, that's not to say that this cover is lacking. In this case, Valentin's clipped, almost cold voice combined with Rose Marshack's backing vocal turns A New World into a slightly icy, but quite cool remake.
Fear's Let's Have A War is next. This time, the Poster
Children acquit themselves admirably by turning the song into
something that could have been on one of their own early albums.
It has the dueling, hard guitars and strong backbeat of Junior
Citizen and Valentin screams over it all in the manner of
something off Daisychain Reaction. Likewise, Divide
and Conquer (originally by Husker Du) benefits by the natural
sonic similarities between the original band and Poster Children.
With a repetitive guitar riff and half-yelled lead vocals, this
could have ended the Poster Children's Just Like You
EP Furthermore, as a rock song, Divide and Conquer seems
to be the least dated musically on this entire EP.
The final song is XTC's Complicated Game. Again, this
is another song that I don't already know. Not surprisingly,
however, Complicated Game sounds perhaps the least like
the Poster Children in its technique. For the first two or so
minutes, the guitars are non-existent and the melody is driven
by the bass and drums. When everything comes together, the swelling
guitar sound almost Pink Floyd-ish with deliberate playing,
and the vocals become more and more stressed and distorted.
To me, it sounds all vaguely like hard psychedelic rock, which
can be good if you like that sort of thing.
In the end, musically, On the Offensive seems like a successful
cover album. Each of the songs, such as I can tell, are filtered
through the Poster Children's idiom and come out as something
slightly different that the original. And, since I personally
don't believe covers should be completely faithful, this is
a good thing. On the other hand, taken as a whole and without
commentary, it's hard to pinpoint the exact purpose of this
exercise. Is it to protest the current political situation?
Is it just to record good songs in a political atmosphere? I
just don't know. But the music works, and that works for me.