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Squad Five-O

  • reviewed by Andy Argyrakis Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Mar
Squad Five-O
Sounds like … think The Clash or The Ramones combined with other '80s influences and more positive songwritingAt a Glance … Squad Five-O's most creative and versatile record yet, with a mind-blowing combination of punk, glam, and old-time rock-and-roll.

If you've ever seen Squad Five-O play live, chances are you bought their CD on the way out of the concert (if you didn't own it already). That's because no other band in the underground alternative scene can put on a more electric, entertaining, and audience-involved show than Squad Five-0. It seems that with each tour the group embarks on, their energy level increases and their playing style evolves. This was evident during the group's leap from an independent act to joining forces with Tooth and Nail in 2000. Even more crucial to the group's growth on stage and in the studio this time around has been the acquisition of two additional musicians. The latest incarnation of the group features brothers Jeff and John Fortson (the group's vocalist and bassist respectively), longtime guitarist Adam Garbinski, and new members Kris Klein on guitar and Dave Petersen on drums.

The latest self-titled effort shows just how far this group has come since their days performing in record stores and church basements, sounding raw and undeveloped on tunes such as "Fight the System." Nowadays, the group finds influence from such notable albums as The Clash's London Calling and The Rolling Stones' Beggar's Banquet, as well as from their underlying desire to spread positive and spiritual enlightenment through their carefully crafted songs and no-holds-barred performances. A song such as "I Don't Want to Change the World, I Just Want to Change Your Mind" summarizes the band's tactful commitment to excellence in musicianship and performance in hopes of establishing their credibility as a band before trying to push an agenda.

This disc is best divided into three portions-one consisting of the sounds fans have come to expect from Squad Five-O, another which incorporates influences from the above acts and some '80s artists, and a third aspect that's completely unexpected. First up are the hard-driving punk-rock cuts such as "Make You Dance," "Piece of the Dream," and "Make You a Star." All three have a high-octane, in-your-face appeal and are also filled with thoughtful tongue-in-cheek lyrics. "Make You a Star" is the best example of the band's quirky writing style, poking fun at a person who dresses or acts a certain way in hopes of earning fame and fortune. Jeff Fortson interrogates the foolish character throughout the song with the infectious line, "How much did you pay for those pants?"

Tracks such as "Screaming With the Sirens," "Turn It Up," and "Wasted (With You)" build off the group's own punk stylings but also branch into other, less predictable areas. The first two have hints of The Clash or The Ramones, but also show spots of Squad Five-O's fascination with the hard-driving glam-rock of the '80s (Van Halen, Quiet Riot, Def Leppard). "Wasted (With You)" is clearly a tribute to the Rolling Stones' Beggar's Banquet era, with Jeff paying homage to Mick Jagger amidst the mayhem of his band mates. Surprisingly, he and the group are able to switch gears quite nicely for a handful of acoustic-heavy renderings on the album. "Crystal Coastline" is a short and simple ballad consisting only of the group's harmonies and the collective strums of their acoustic guitars. "Underground Hearts" is much more effective, nearing six minutes in length and reaching unparalleled dramatic heights for the group. It's split evenly between acoustic and electric moments and is centered around snarling riffs and crescendos, taking listeners back to the power-ballad days of Poison, Whitesnake, and Bon Jovi.

Skeptics of the band's look and mission can be assured that Squad Five-O not only fills a need amongst teens for music they can relate to, but also sets a standard for other bands in both the Christian and mainstream underground scenes. Perhaps Garbinski summarizes the band's overall outlook best. "A lot of bands today just have no heart, they're selfish in content and attitude," he said. "When we talk about values, we're referring to the fact that we're all in this together and that we realize we need to consciously act that way. The romantic loner image is okay, but it's really by leaning on your friends and brothers and sisters that you'll be able to get by."