Review by Alex Henderson
While director Penelope Spheeris' second Decline of Western Civilization film examined L.A.'s heavy metal/hard rock scene, her first Decline of 1981 focused on the city's hardcore punk scene. The soundtrack to the first Decline takes us back to a time when punk wasn't mainstream-a time when it was underground, cutting-edge and controversial. Sometimes informative, sometimes entertaining and sometimes shocking, Decline was unlikely to convert anyone who wasn't already a punk admirer. The interviewees (who are either punk artists or simply punk fans) and the music tend to come across as angry and hostile, and if you were among those who didn't comprehend punk in the early 1980s, all that hostility wasn't going to win you over. But among confirmed punk fans, this soundtrack is considered essential listening. Recorded in 1979 and 1980, Decline boasts what was the cream of Southern California's punk crop at the time. Black Flag's "Depression," the Circle Jerks' "Back Against the Wall," the Germs' "Manimal," X's unsettling "Johnny Hit and Run Pauline" and Catholic Discipline's Doors-influenced "Underground Babylon" are true punk classics-forceful, urgent, full of anger and in-your-face. Most of the bands are from L.A., but the exception is the Bay Area's nihilistic Fear, which provides gut-level performances of "I Love Livin' in the City" and "I Don't Care About You" (two of its best songs). This superb album is recommended to anyone with even a casual interest in punk.