There’s something about the early days of punk that seems, not disposable, but unconcerned about the future. When the major labels took a hard pass, it was up to a number of smaller labels to fill the gap. The thing is many of those labels weren’t really built to last. As such, there’s no telling how many albums have been lost to the dustbin of history simply because the labels folded and took their stock with them. A major factor in why some bands are continually cited is simply because their albums are continually in print.
Then you have the case with bands like the Circle Jerks, who find half of their catalog out of print. And while one could always attempt to pull together the complete discography via used bins, there’s always the one record that’s impossible to find and going for absurd amounts of money. For the Circle Jerks that record has been VI. Released in 1987 on CombatCore, the hardcore offshoot of ’80s metal label Combat, it was the last record the band released before taking a hiatus that stretched to 1994. When Combat was eventually bought out (before being shuttered), keeping the albums of a defunct band in print wasn’t a high priority. Thankfully, perhaps in response to the archive fever that seems to have taken over the new millennium, VI has been remastered and put back in print by Real Gone.
Former Black Flag vocalist Keith Morris and former Redd Kross guitarist Greg Heston (later of Bad Religion) formed the Circle Jerks in 1979, with their first album Group Sex landing in 1980. With a rotating rhythm section, the band released four albums before their second album for CombatCore, the cheekily titled VI. If you can’t do the math, that means their fifth album was called “six.” It’s fitting as there was always a wink and a nod mixed in with their politically tinged and satirical lyrics.
VI saw the band undergo a bit of a change in their sound. Slowing down the tempo and generally being more accomplished musically, this was the second album with the rhythm section of Zander Schloss on bass and Keith Clark on drums. Nonetheless, the band sounds like they’ve been together since day one, and every song seems like a hit.
While the previous record, Wonderful has had a historically mixed reception, VI sticks the landing. It’s the same players and same basic ideas, but the execution is more confident. Not exactly a return to form because of the new direction, VI saw the resurrection of the band’s tradition of covers, with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” getting the Circle Jerks treatment. If somehow you had never heard the original, you could be convinced that this was just one of the punks’ original songs. High praise, but it’s easy to forget that Morris is one of the most underrated singers and songwriters in the game. VI gets better and better with repeated spins, revealing itself as an overlooked gem in the punk canon.