What is the point in punk music? A Guardian piece earlier in the year made the point that ‘whilst punk was a two syllabled ‘fuck-you’, new wave (what we’d call indie music today) was something more meaningful’. It’s a good point. Punk was only popular for as long as it remained dangerous, or at least that’s how the traditional story goes. And the fact that you can use the word ‘traditional’ when talking about Punk shows just how dangerous Punk remains.
West Coast is one of those songs which reminds just what the point of Punk music is (not that it needs one). It’s to have a fucking good time. It is all about excitement, like dubstep or grime. It is almost alone in the guitar world as being an ‘upper’ (rather than a more reflective genre; when was the last time an indie song made you want to jump?). Just because it’s no longer dangerous does not mean it is no longer exciting – it may be less exciting, and therefore less popular, and less valuable – but songs like this remind that actually, maybe, Punk is still as exciting as it as ever was. It’s just that now you’d listen to it around the fire with your family, not sitting in your room whilst they sit there. And that’s no problem. It just opens a gap in the market – a gap in the market which dubstep was happy to fill, Grime is happy to fill and PC Music will be happy to fill.
Just what, then, makes this such a great pop song? It is the fact that it is so energetic (an upper) and yet so reflective at the same time. The accelerator is all the way down on both – how many songs can you think which do that? And even if it was just energetic it would be a great punk song and a good pop song, but the combination of the two makes it greater – a great song full stop.
The effect of this combination is that the song feels like it is looking forward and backward. That’s reflected in the lyrics (‘Checked out, waiting for the weekend/ Coked up, it’s all right I’m leaving /I don’t wanna go back home /Skip school, already failing). It’s a cool effect because looking forward and backward is basically what we all do, all the time. We do that because we know we can’t appreciate things getting better if we don’t acknowledge what happened before. And that’s true even if your version of getting better is getting ‘coked up’.