In many ways, D.R.I.‘s second long-player Dealing With It is the greatest concept album about teen angst ever recorded. There are some obvious holes to this theory: the band name (Dirty Rotten Imbeciles), cover art, and simpleton themes running throughout the album don’t exactly point to an archetypical concept record. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty certain that none of the members of D.R.I. have ever gone on record to state that Dealing With It is a concept album at all, let alone try to explain a story line.
Allow me. Dealing With It is the story of four teenage boys coming of age in the ’80s, dealing with issues of social alienation and feelings of worthlessness. They notice the crass consumerism of those more fortunate than them and begin to notice the hypocrisy of Ronald Reagan‘s voodoo economics. While they’re not able to completely understand or eloquently address the ills of society, they’re able to determine what’s right and wrong, and they struggle with why those who are presumably more intelligent can’t see the same things.
They all share of love of things hardcore and punk, a combination that had not been fully examined in the early ’80s. The four start a band inspired by this love of music, and because they understand that time is precious, most of their material barely reaches the one-minute mark. The songs within Dealing With It represent the manner in which they survived their teenage years, an audio document on how they dealt with the forces against them, turning an outlet forged of frustration into a sustainable band.
Vocalist Kurt Brecht and guitarist Spike Cassidy started Dirty Rotten Imbeciles a few years prior, along with Kurt’s brother Eric on drums and Dennis Johnson on bass. The four would practice at the Brecht’s house, usually finding their practices interrupted by Kurt and Eric’s father. He would berate the boys, calling them a bunch of “dirty rotten imbeciles” and kick Spike and Dennis out of the house until the next evening when they’d start over again.
For most of us, that repeated intolerance would surely be enough to dissuade. To the members of D.R.I., they turned it into a band name, a song (“Madman”), and an album cover. As a reminder—and a motivational tool for those facing similar criticisms—they included an audio sample of Brecht’s father pulling the plug on a rehearsal during a fairly cantankerous mood at the beginning of “Madman.” You hear the father bang on the door, advising them “Look…The party’s over!” before reminding his sons, “You have to go to school and these others (referring to Spike and Dennis) are dropouts.” Spike takes offense to this implication, challenging the father with the fact “We all work.” The dad squares up Spike with the strut of a homeowner: “I don’t need you…When I come home, I want to relax!”
Ironically, so did D.R.I. The two just took different paths in how to get there.
By the time that Dealing With It was recorded, the band had moved out of their parent’s house and found common refugees in San Francisco. Eric Brecht eventually left the fold and Dennis Johnson headed back home, but Kurt and Spike forged ahead and turned the remnants of their teenage angst into the best album of their career.
But what makes it such a landmark album is the maturity that is prevalent in their musicianship. No longer being content with the fastest band in the world, Spike Cassidy begins to demonstrate a unique knack of balancing between punk and metal riffs. With this album, he identifies himself as a thrash pioneer, a perfect compliment to Kurt’s limited vocal range. It is his talents that ultimately save D.R.I. from becoming just another footnote in the annals of punk. Unfortunately, it is also those same talents that began to consider the possibility of a wider audience, and D.R.I. started to examine those possibilities with subsequent albums that took on a more metal direction.
The thing is, the band’s weaknesses began to really show the moment they began pursuing those “crossover” ideas. Dealing With It is a perfect balance of the two genres, as any shortcomings are diminished with the reactionary nature of punk’s tradition.
Consider such lines as “I won’t fight your stupid war!” (“Stupid, Stupid War”) or “I’ve lost all usefulness / I want to die!” (“Nursing Home Blues”) or “Every day I get more pissed / Slit my wrists! Slit My Wrists!” (“Slit My Wrists”) and imagine how they’d fare in complex arrangements or with times exceeding a minute or more.
You’d be looking at an album with so much creative contradiction that any power behind it would be lost in the guitar solos, tempo changes, and repetitive lyrics.
Thankfully, the band left us with one album to document their transition and it should be recognized as one of the blueprints of such bands as Slayer, Anthrax and other bands that went on to bigger acclaim. More importantly, it’s a wonderfully enjoyable album filled with riffs, speed, humor, and inspiration on how to properly deal with the negative forces that slight one’s environment. Dealing With It serves as a healthy self-help program for any teenager looking for a way to channel the aggression of their young angst.