But if these Manchester punk vets don't watch out, they might squander that hard-earned cache of cool. Beware of Slaughter and the Dogs, the band's first studio album in 12 years, is a full trough of Salisbury steak-and-potatoes punk and roll -- that much hasn't changed. But it also contains some goofy missteps that could damage the mystique. Judging from the dark, sometimes penitent lyrical tone, singer Wayne Barrett has had some rough times. Heartfelt as it may be, though, the drug warning "Blow," with its artless chorus -- "Blow by blow!" -- is down in the league of Alice Cooper's "Hey Stoopid." And "I Got Your Number" is a tribute to . . . uh . . . phone sex, which isn't exactly the kind of theme that works for laddish bonding.
But in 2002, you don't have to be snotty to be cool. And most of Beware of is way cool: street anti-poetry and true three-chord grit. The lead track, "Saturday Night 'Till Sunday Morning," is the kind of lethally infectious rave-up that made the band's reputation. So what if it sounds pretty much like Slade's "Skweeze Me Pleeze Me"? -- at this point, it's not a matter of plagiarism, but preservation. Slaughter keeps alive the spirit of pre-hardcore punk without artsy, political, or commercial ambitions. In other words, it plays unpretentious music with a ton of heart -- and that really ought to inspire a lot more than just name-dropping.