Fake Names' Expendables: members of Refused, Bad Religion, Fugazi and Girls Against Boys unite for a righteous racket

Fake Names' second album is punk rock nirvana from scene lifers who still value, and believe in, the power of three chords and the truth

Fake Names' Expendables artwork
(Image: © Epitaph)

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As an album written and recorded by men of a certain age, it might reasonably be supposed that Expendables, the second full-length release from the American and European collective Fake Names, might take a more weatherworn approach to the kinds of issues that once furrowed their younger brows. After all, what are you gonna do? Years of experience have taught them that can’t fight City Hall, son.

But as the first of the LP’s 10 economical and persuasive tracks gun into life, a lyric emerges that suggests there’s fight in the old dogs yet. “Within the cage there’s no way to understand who makes the profit and who benefits from the scam,” comes the warning. “It’s not you, and it’s never been, it’ll never be – you’re just a pawn that defends your own misery.”

The person singing these words is Denis Lyxzen, who made his bones as a member of punk rock game-changers Refused. At his back, guitarists Brian Baker – since 1995 the lead player with Bad Religion; formerly a member of Minor Threat – and Michael Hampton (whose younger self played with Henry Rollins in S.O.A), and bassist Johnny Temple (day job: Girls Against Boys) provide light and shade and, when required, more than a little muscle. Keeping time is Brendan Canty, formerly the drummer with no lesser lights than Fugazi. By instinct, music-makers balk at the term “supergroup”. So let’s just say that between them the members of Fake Names have quite the backstory. 

As you might expect from a cast list as accomplished as this, Expendables is a tasteful affair. Fluent, nuanced, patient and poised, its songs are in no hurry to make their point. And while it might be said that in an ideal world it would have been nice to hear more in the way of lead guitar from Baker – who for decades has ranked among the most accomplished and exciting players in the field – the felicitous interplay between him and Hampton gives the album a luxuriant and sophisticated feel. Think Keith Levene rather than Johnny Ramone. Which isn’t to say that Fake Names aren’t averse to locating their higher gears every now and again, mind. On both the Damage Done and the propulsive title track, Expendables shifts air with the kind of delight reserved for people who know that closest thing to heaven is to (punk) rock and roll. 

In other words, Fake Names are a delight. In terms of music fashioned by lifers equipped with both talent and authority, their album is a tour of a neighbourhood that they themselves have helped to build, and to maintain. “We’re nothing but expendables,” sings Lyxzen with the kind of perpetual adolescence without which no punk rock album would ever be complete. “That’s what they’re saying. But we know it isn’t true.”

Ian Winwood
Freelance Writer

Barnsley-born author and writer Ian Winwood contributes to The Telegraph, The Times, Alternative Press and Times Radio, and has written for Kerrang!, NME, Mojo, Q and Revolver, among others. His favourite albums are Elvis Costello's King Of America and Motorhead's No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith. His favourite books are Thomas Pynchon's Vineland and Paul Auster's Mr Vertigo. His own latest book, Bodies: Life and Death in Music, is out now on Faber & Faber and is described as "genuinely eye-popping" by The Guardian, "electrifying" by Kerrang! and "an essential read" by Classic Rock. He lives in Camden Town.