Strike Under: Immediate Action 12” (Wax Trax Records, 1981/2020)
After my staff pick last week, which was the writerly equivalent of Derick Smalls’ Jazz Odyssey for Spinal Tap Mark II, I need to keep things simple and just tell you about an interesting record. I’ve listened to the Morbo LP more than anything else this week, but I’ve been pulling out this 12” EP from Chicago’s Strike Under since it came in.
I’ve had the original pressing of Immediate Action on my want list for about 20 years, but I’ve never found a copy. Honestly, I haven’t tried that hard because I wouldn’t call Immediate Action a great record, but it’s one that I like, particularly since it’s such an important touchstone for Chicago punk. After Strike Under broke up in 1981, three of the four members formed Trial By Fire (whose retrospective LP on Alonas Dream Records I highly recommend), and from there bassist Pierre Kezdy played in Naked Raygun and then Pegboy, two bands very near to my heart.
One thing I love about Chicago punk is that many of the bands—this is true of Naked Raygun and the Effigies—had a sound rooted in melodic, 70s UK punk. While later hardcore bands would focus on speed and/or heaviness, sometimes to the detriment of everything else, my favorite Chicago bands had strong songwriting. You can hear an embryonic version of that on Immediate Action, with tracks like “Context” and “Elephant’s Graveyard” featuring the style of big chorus that would make Naked Raygun hometown heroes.
The thing is, though, for all the strength of their approach, Immediate Action sounds kind of tired and restrained. The sound is clear and powerful and the playing is tight, but it lacks the explosive quality I want from punk rock. The closest they get is on the closing vamp “Immediate Action,” where they kick up the tempo to SOA speed. I just wish that energy level came through on the more melodic tracks. When I listen to Immediate Action I strain to imagine what Strike Under would have sounded on a night when they were on fire. I bet it was incredible.
Immediate Action is also important because it was the first release on the Wax Trax label, which would become central to the history of industrial music. In fact, Wax Trax recently relaunched their label, which is why we have this well-done reissue. Wax Trax has also released a 7” featuring songs from a different Strike Under recording session, and while we have that in stock, I haven’t listened to it yet.