There's always a danger when pop stars and rockers try to recapture their much-celebrated musical pasts, and perhaps no one should resist the urge to revisit their headier days more than aging punkers. If it wasn't already an obviously bad idea, last year's noisome Sex Pistols reunion should have warned away all comers. But as the music charts float and flutter with the pristine melodies of Jewel and the bubble-gum, pseudo-funk harmonies of the Spice Girls, the disquieting, occasionally discordant rage of Exene Cervenkova is more than a welcome antidote -- it's a requisite slap in the face to keep you from drifting off while driving through the monotony of the pop highway.
Cervenkova (formerly Cervenka) is best known as singer and songwriter (with ex-husband John Doe) of X, arguably the most important American punk band. Last summer, after the latest X reconfiguration fell apart, Cervenkova enlisted her former bandmate, drummer D.J. Bonebrake, and Rancid bassist Matt Freeman to form Auntie Christ. On "Life Could Be A Dream," the band's Lookout Records debut produced by Sally Browder, the trio revisits the straight-ahead, speed-punk landscape that X staked out so brilliantly on their first two albums, "Los Angeles" (1980) and "Wild Gift" (1981).
From the start, Bonebrake and Freeman set a pace that is blistering and unforgiving. And while Cervenkova's guitar playing won't remind anyone of legendary X guitarist Billy Zoom, she more than holds her own throughout as the band tears its way through their two-and-a-half-minute novellas, "I Don't," "The Future is a War" and "Not You." On "I Don't," Exene repeatedly wails what is as good a punk mantra as any: "I don't think anyone's coming to save us."
Cervenkova establishes her political agenda on "Bad Trip," the CD's opening song, by cataloguing American ills -- including AIDS, gangs, race relations, the environment, poverty and delusions of Ronald Reagan's face in the clouds. Make no mistake, though, Exene's politics aren't partisan, they're societal. She's worried for the lot of us and she thinks we're turning a blind eye to our problems. "America tripping," she sings, "Don't look in the mirror, it'll blow your mind."
The same desperation that colors Cervenkova's political outlook can be heard creeping into her more personal songs. "I said I'd give you the shirt off my back/You said keep your shirt on," she sings on "Tell Me," a heart-wrenching account of a repeatedly failed relationship.
There are moments on the CD where Auntie Christ comes perilously close to disintegrating into nostalgic reverie. On "The Nothing Generation," Exene sounds like a cranky punk grandmother bemoaning how her know-nothing offspring will "swallow anything they shove down your throats" and then implores, "Why don't you throw up all that postmodern junk?/Why can't you all be straight edge?/Why can't you all be punk?"
With those few exceptions, however, the music remains raw and raucous, and the journey to the past becomes not a forlorn retrospective but a visceral reawakening. This is pure punk that grabs you by the throat and shakes you from your slumber. The songs -- 10 tracks clocking in under a total of 25 minutes -- are punctuated bursts of emotion and heat. So what if you can't always understand the words -- somehow the message still burns through.