As punk was breaking for the second time, Nomeansno's career peaked with 1989's Wrong, which perfected their blistering oddball hardcore, and 1991's 0 + 2 = 1, which included some of the strangest and most evocative lyrics that punk has ever produced. The following decade brought something of a slump as the Vancouver trio switched guitarists and approached middle age. Their unbridled misanthropy seemed to restrict them, preventing the artistic growth that came to comrades like Fugazi and Mike Watt. But 2000's No One seemed to dump Nomeansno all at once into maturity, as bassist/vocalist Rob Wright's aging voice intoned lyrics that were both gravely elegiac and gleefully menacing, particularly on a 15-minute (!) vocal version of Miles Davis's "Bitches Brew." No One seemed to promise that the group's music had grown, against the odds, into punk rock for adults.
That promise is not fulfilled by their newest effort, All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt. Here, Nomeansno reverts to the mediocrity that made most of its mid-'90s work disposable. This regression is particularly evident in its attacks on such topics as capitalistic amorality ("Mondo Nihilissimo 2000") and the pressing issue of 20 years ago, conformity in punk rock ("The Hawk Killed the Punk"). More often it shows in tired, aimless negativity set to music that this band could play in its sleep ("In Her Eyes," "Ashes," "So Low" -- take your pick).
The album's more ambitious tracks -- "I See a Mansion in the Sky," "Faith" and "Heaven Is the Dust Beneath My Shoes" -- achieve a greater emotional impact, particularly "Mansion," on which John Wright tumbles and races over his drums like a demented ferret. But even these songs show gaps in Rob Wright's lyrical imagination. "Mansion" relies too much on lazy wordplay, and "Faith's" climax consists of referring to a female dog as a "bitch." Real creative. "Heaven," for its part, juxtaposes powerful choruses with three vignettes that seem to have absolutely no relation to one another. This total incongruity, oddly enough, gives "Heaven" some of the album's most memorable seconds. Seconds. (There ought to be more than just seconds of memorable music per song, don't you think?) It's an unfortunate metaphor for the record: If Nomeansno ever does deliver on the promise of No One, All Roads may be remembered just as an unexpected and distracting anomaly. If not, it will be seen as another stop on Nomeansno's road to insignificance.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.