"It almost makes you want to gag," said one fanzine of the Offbeats' early output, close to two decades ago. "They should be shot," read another. Quotes like these are the stuff that punk rock legends are made of -- especially coming from the early '80s, when antagonism was still as much a part of the genre as safety pins and curled lips, and bands were rewarded for good performances with gobs of spit.
But while the Offbeats were certainly among the most annoying entities of the '80s -- right up there with Alf and Spuds MacKenzie -- this band was more than just a punk punch line. Sure, they had songs like "Bald Guys Farting," "Shit My Pants," and "Donut on My Dick," but beneath the smarm, the Offbeats possessed surprising pop savvy. This is made evident by Dumb Looks Still Free, a strong collection of live and demo tracks that chronicles the band from its origins as a breakneck goofball ensemble into an overlooked pop-punk precursor.
Dumb starts off with a slew of off-the-cuff punk pisstakes before the Offbeats hit their stride midway through the 39 tracks. The thrash-pop blitz of "Milk and Cupcakes" and the Yardbirds-on-PCP stammer of "Swingin' Round" make this group sound a lot like the Midwestern antecedent of Mudhoney: all leering vocals, abrasive guitar, and caustic wit.
Cuts like these landed the band a short-lived deal with Relativity Records (then a big player in underground rock), which issued the Offbeats' lone LP, Evolution of a Stickman. The record never hit, and the Offbeats eventually fell apart on a tour with the Lemonheads. Nevertheless, Dumb Looks Still Free is a fitting epitaph that proves that this band's humor-laden hardcore was no joke.
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