Though the bold shades of yellow and pink of the cover art are reminiscent of the Sex Pistols’ debut, and the exposed film negatives are street punk clichés, don’t be fooled. Propelled by the band’s own growth rather than the appeasement of its audience’s taste, Dead Flowers, Bottles, Bluegrass, and Bones is the Swingin’ Utters’ most musically varied effort to date.
Few bands can open a record with the power-chord thrash of a song like “No Pariah” and then close 35 minutes later with the quiet, vibraphone-tinged one like “Shadows and Lies” and pull it off. This is the Utters’ first record without guitarist Max Huber, and Spike Slawson’s bass playing has never melded with the band’s sound better. Lead vocalist for Bay Area punk favorites Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Slawson may be responsible for the catchy vocal harmonies that pepper this record. Even when the tempo is slowed to that of a ballad, as with the Bukowski-esque “Looking for Something to Follow,” the music and the emotion build off of — rather than abide by — the old formula.
Naysayers need only skip right to the eighth track, “Lampshade,” a high-pitched piano waltz accompanied by guitarist and maestro Darius Koski on the accordion. It’s as far as you can get from the spirit of ’77 street punk that has always characterized the Utters’ style. Johnny Bonnel’s scratchy howl convincingly carries the ode to solitude and loneliness while the band moves with subtle grace. Like the sentiments conveyed in earlier songs such as “Last Chance,” “Fifteenth and T,” and “The Stooge,” this isn’t a weepy song of self-pity but an honest self-exorcism.