An Education in Rebellion takes gleeful delight in doing endless laps in an Olympic-size pool of expletive-laden temptation and cynicism.
Self-awareness is a valuable trait in music. It’s also rare, especially in metal. And it’s even more so in the whipping post punchline known as nü-metal. None of the genre’s usual suspects—Limp Bizkit, Korn, Slipknot, et al.—display anything of the sort. Unbridled teenage angst for its own sake was the sine qua non of the whole scene.
There were outliers, though. Some bands (Deftones, Disturbed and Kittie as examples) quickly outgrew that phase, while others (say, The Deadlights and 40 Below Summer) died off before the genre, and by extension themselves, became unfashionable.
And then there’s The Union Underground. While they fit into the latter category—the San Antonio quartet only released one album, 2000’s An Education in Rebellion, before disbanding for a decade-and-a-half—they’re a special case because of their self-awareness. Indeed, An Education takes gleeful delight in doing endless laps in an Olympic-size pool of expletive-laden temptation and cynicism. On this point two lines are particularly illustrative: “Penetrate, penetrate all the simple minds” and “Forget the future, regret the past/ No present tense is gonna last.”
But that massive and decidedly foul-mouthed swimming pool might just be some (quite possibly brilliant) meta-commentary on nü-metal. The band—vocalist/guitarist Bryan Scott, guitarist Patrick Kennison, bassist John Moyer and drummer Josh Memelo— alternate between poking fun at rockstar life and junkie culture (and sometimes both simultaneously) throughout the proceedings. Scott dryly mocks the allure of the former: “Dilate, dilate, what’s my drug of choice?/ It’s okay when they pay, they say I got the voice/ Look at this, the motherfucker is a millionaire/ Realize it’s a mask that you wear” and “Never forget your lies/ Hypocrisize, five million might change your mind.” He sneers at the latter and romanticizes drug abuse in rock just as much: “It’s such a shame that it is this way/ I’m a junkie, god is gay/ Hate to bleed but it heals my pain” and “Say that you never wanna get high, man/ There’s nothing better, give it a try, man.”
And when Scott takes a moment to dip his toe into seriousness (probably?), he makes a sorta clever Neil Young reference while being sorta poetic: “I feel you coming, I see your red flower loveliness/ You shoot the fun, I feel your black hollow consciousness/ I’ve turned you on to what they call the fucking devil’s son/ I kiss you all, the feeble and the damage done.” The song, “Until You Crack,” appears to be about the results of heroin abuse, with Scott using the first person to describe the awfulness: “Your paranoia is starting to bore ya/ The feeling is so that I’m sick and I’m breaking.” Notably, the line’s melody resembles a commercial jingle that burrows into your head with fevered immediacy.
The band’s use of earworm pop melodies throughout the album adds to its subversive nature. Laid over sludgy aggro-boogie, TUU’s brand of songwriting is surprisingly pop-minded. Many of its songs have at least one melody that in other hands could’ve been notable rock hits. “Natural High,” for example, floats along a gentle wave to match the imagery: “Swimming in a sea of a jealous tide/ Won’t wash your hate away/ Selling your soul for a piece of mind/ Can’t buy yourself today.” Likewise, “Turn Me On ‘Mr. Deadman’” offers a hook-y soccer anthem chorus meant to be shouted back to the band almost as a middle finger to arena rock: “Yeah, I want it/ I need it/ To make a million/ Yeah, I love it/ A fuckin’ rockstar.”
And ultimately, that’s what An Education in Rebellion is: a 34-minute (satirical) ‘fuck you’ to everything and everybody. The album closes with the sarcastically-titled “The Friend Song,” a two-minute punk number that starts by Scott barking, “Living in fear, fuck pretend/ 24 years, struggle within” before he declares, “I’ll be the one/ Kill you for fun/ This song is dumb” completely free of irony. Scott reactivated the band in 2016 with a partially new lineup, and they’ve played shows together to some acclaim. There’s even promise of new music on the horizon, and if a clip of new song “Faith Collapsing” is any indication, the new material is perfectly on-brand: “I am your Jesus Christ, motherfucker,” Bryan Scott snarls. “And you are the godless.” It’s as joyfully trashy as anything on An Education in Rebellion, so A-plus for consistency.