If you look at the album artwork for Tennessee Scum’s What a Drag, you’ll see what looks like an acid trip out of an episode of SuperJail!, illustrated by artist Alden K. It’s chaotic and colorful at first glance, but once you look closer you’ll see the three menacing, baton-wielding police officers in the bottom left corner, as well as the toxic-waste-laden prison complex they’re standing in. The cover fits the project to a T; while Tennessee Scum may just sound like a riveting punk band at first listen, peering into their lyrics reveals their dystopian view of the police and other equally grim outlooks.
The trio’s sound occupies some heavy Dead Kennedys/The Cramps territory, with some peculiar, feverish vocals over surf-punk guitars. You get hit with this sound right away on “A.C.A.D.,” which stands for “All Cops are Dangerous.” It’s a paranoid, in-your-face rocker that has the band’s anti-cop message coming through loud and clear. That message continues on the following cut, the 98-second “Stop!,” taking the issue of racial profiling and police militarization head-on from a corrupt officer’s perspective, complete with lyrics like:
Looking for a black man / 16–32 / Could be Hispanic / I don’t know / Call in troops / Bring the smoke grenades / And just in case / We’ll roll out our tank
Another cop-blasting highlight is “Warzone,” a receptive but catchy painting of apocalyptic police-civilian relations. That sentiment may turn some listeners off, but not all of What a Drag’s high points rely on this political message. “Haunt” is a pounding cut about ignorance, complete with a ghastly wail. The album wraps up on a serious, glum note in the one-two punch of “Could Be You” and the title track. The first focuses on the basic notion of “my life really sucks, but at least I’m not you,” while the latter finds the group taking a somber tone with a focus on a broken friendship/relationship. “What a Drag,” in particular, takes this reeling punk act and brings it down to a personal, emotional level, allowing a bond to be formed with almost any listener.
This project from Tennessee Scum (made up of Mike Scum, Xmas Scum and Wesley Mitchell) is one of the strongest local releases of the year, not only for its strong, driven lyrics, but also its exciting, creative approach to punk. What a Drag is a punk record that spits in the face of authority and wants to take you for a ride through the toxic, cop-controlled wasteland depicted on its cover.