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BLISTERS (Buy CDs by this artist)
Off My Back (Albertine) 1991
Pissed to Meet Me (Ger. Incognito) 1992
Meow: The Claude Coleman Sessions EP [tape] (no label) 1995

These chronic underachievers form one of the longest-lived and least-appreciated pop-punk outfits to ever come out of New Jersey. Beginning in 1987 with a string of singles and compilation cuts, the group established itself as a favorite in the Garden State's punk-rock underground by seamlessly blending Ramones-influenced three-chord rock'n'roll with Replacements-ish garage-punk. Chief among the Blisters' charms is bassist Steve "Nitti" Bahr's boyish vocals, as sincere and ingratiating as Paul Westerberg's more famous midwestern drawl and the perfect vehicle for the group's sweet, boy-next-door persona.

Off My Back is a near-perfect collection of infectiously catchy and upbeat tunes capturing the bittersweet freedom of early adulthood. "Off My Back," "My Room" and "Gimme Some Time" chug along like vintage Ramones, powered by guitarist Dennis Marmon's energetic power-chord strums and Bil Kleemeyer's concise, emphatic drums. But like the Ramones, the Blisters can be unexpectedly poignant, too: "Turn 21" laments the changes that adulthood and responsibility can bring to a relationship, while "Change My World" exposes the band's romantic side in a surprisingly touching love song set to a slow-dance tempo.

Pissed to Meet Me presents a markedly changed and matured Blisters. Kleemeyer had been replaced by headbanger Tony DiLeo; Jersey scenester (and Maximumrocknroll columnist) Sam Schiffman joined the group briefly on rhythm guitar. The harder drums and the twin guitars yield a much fuller and heavier sound, freeing Marmon to inject feisty metallish guitar solos on top of the familiar churn. The songs are darker and less happy sounding, although Bahr's ebullient vocals continue to buoy even broken-hearted love songs like "Don't Rewind" with optimistic hooks ("Don't give up on tomorrow, don't rewind"). Schiffman's contributions include a frenetic noise-collage called "Shmuel" ("Samuel" in Yiddish).

After struggling through years of near-constant personnel shifts and a changing club scene, the Blisters re-emerged in 1995 with Meow: The Claude Coleman Sessions, a five-song tape produced by the titular Ween drummer. Only Bahr and Marmon remain from the original lineup; while the former's vocals still sound about the same, Marmon's guitar has gone totally metal, especially on the Guns n' Roses-styled lead that introduces the power ballad "Eleventh Hour." The new lineup rekindles some of the poppy, punky energy of the band's early years on "John Wilkes Booth" and "Ride the Sky," albeit with heavier guitars, more complex arrangements and longer solos, while "Banshee" provides another showcase for Bahr's huge stylistic debt to Westerberg. An over-the-top cover of Deep Purple's "Highway Star" ends the tape on a playfully cheesy note.

[Jim Testa]