Punk’s nihilism — if indeed punk was nihilistic — was premised on a Frankenstein phoenix arising from the ashes of the late-capitalist apocalypse, smeared in those ashes themselves, a self-reinvention that is re-embodied on Hunx and His Punx’ latest, Street Punk. Where Hunx’ 2012 solo effort Hairdresser Blues mellowed things and splooged in the direction of emotional heft, Street Punk delivers an aggro barrage eschewing the pop-punk, doo-wop, and girl group influences we’ve become over-comfortable with. Comfortable is for part-time punks!
But does this personality crisis bring heartache and frustration? The tracks that work best are those that wouldn’t’ve been out of place on 2010’s Gay Singles or sister band Shannon and the Clams’ Sleep Talk — pieces where kitsch and genuine feeling meet in a way that shouldn’t even be possible. Shannon Shaw’s majestic vocals, full and raggedy, have always been a great match for Seth Bogart’s nasal, enticing sneer, and that remains a match made in heaven — if heaven was a nail salon. “You Think You’re Tough” and “I’m Coming Back” rock hard and scuzzy, while the title track has a blazingly awesome Richard Hell vibe, but collapses into a predictable chorus (“Street punk, and I don’t fit in/ I don’t fit in to your world.”)
Your intrepid reviewer can report that, live, Hunx are utter trashy goodness, a trip to Dreamland, but recorded here, there’s a fine line they wobble back and forth on, like the tyres of a dodgy fixie, where the humor can wear thin and wear out its welcome (“Born Blonde”). Short sharp shox like “Everyone’s A Pussy (Fuck You Dude)” are a lot of fun, but they’re also one-trick ponies — though some seem like ideas that might be interestingly developed in terms of the feeling of outsider queerness. In saying that, I don’t want to imply that anyone bears a responsibility to represent any particular identity — only that there’s an itchy kernel there that I’d like to see blossom into lush, man-eating fruit, the splendid penis flytrap of Gay Shame.
Like Jean Genet, these punks use subculture to create a lineage in which the shallowness of sleaze and the abject yet idolized human body become grotesquely divine, but without Genet’s eerie, stilted poetry of transcendence. When the police discover Genet’s tube of Vaseline, a sign of his sexual proclivities, the object becomes for him “the sign of a secret grace which was soon to save me from contempt;” for Hunx and Shannon, proclaiming “Don’t Call Me Fabulous” constructs what Dick Hebdige calls “the voluntary assumption of outcast status,” not only from the straight world of patriarchy and body fascism, but also from a certain stripe of homonormativity.
The melancholy queer of 19th-century fiction becomes Sara Ahmed’s outsider killjoy, but the killing of joy is itself a joyful enactment of the death drive, the triumphant proclamation of no future: bad skin as the self’s entire surface and therefore its destruction (being vacant on the inside). Thus, both in its diagnosis and in its retromania and one-line song repetitions, the album, like punk in its day, can be understood as the work of “degenerates” performing and representing the social atrophy of thirty-years-after Thatcher-Reagan, the tension between identity politics and the collapse of radicalism, the effective incorporation of subcultural resistance, “symptomatizing a whole cluster of contemporary problems” (Hebdige again). Scabsolutely fabulous.