Change gets the hype, but most things stay the same. Two decades ago, Hermosa Beach [California] H.S. grads Pennywise represented something new, drawing on a still underground skate punk sound and its blend of chunky thrash guitar, shout-along anthems and machine-gun tempos. Poised to capitalize on the early-'90s punk success of Bad Religion and the Offspring, they proved unable to follow up their indie breakthrough, 1995's About Time.
While they're still a powerful live presence, recent albums hold more appeal for their consistency than their inventiveness. It's hard to fault them, though; Pennywise is to Bad Religion what Aerosmith is to the Stones. So while their new, free MySpace album, Reason to Believe, offers catchy punk with a few wrinkles (the power pop-tinged "We'll Never Know"), there's a workmanlike banality to it.
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SoCal neighbors Strung Out have been at it almost as long as Pennywise, plying a more metal-inflected skate-punk sound migrating, on the past few albums, toward greater tunefulness. While neither act scores high on originality, it's hardly worse than the ubiquity of 12-bar blues, and as music reverts from recording back to a performance art, such concerns seem less important to livewire acts like these.