On its third full-length, Don’t Be So Cruel, Houston trio Something Fierce didn’t exactly soften its pop-punk attack—it geekified it. Granted, there was plenty of unabashed nerd power to its previous recordings. But Don’t Be So Cruel breaks down the band’s gleeful, ’77-style thrashing and rebuilds it with a curious eye, a practiced hand, and an almost scientific knack for tinkering with its own genetic makeup.

Part of it may be the retro angle Something Fierce has always proudly upheld. Evolving slightly beyond the group’s original fixation with early Buzzcocks and Clash, Don’t Be So Cruel recalls the time when punk bands—not yet ready to graduate to keyboards or more sweeping compositional ambition—simply fucked with the formula a bit. The disc’s title track opens with stuttering, astringent, off-kilter riffs that leave huge holes in the song; it’s through those empty spaces that guitarist Steven Garcia pokes his sharp, hiccupping vocals, and bassist Niki Sevven installs bobbing, melodic lines that stop just short of post-punk funkiness.


On songs like the quirky “Future Punks” and the angular “Ghosts Of Industry,” though, the album feels hesitant and reserved; then again, even one of the group’s heroes, The Undertones, toyed unsteadily with a similar hybrid of punk, pop, and art on its overlooked 1980 near-masterpiece Hypnotised. Whether Something Fierce is similarly transitioning between raw rock and polished pop has yet to be seen—but the unhinged, reckless friskiness of Don’t Be So Cruel anthems like “Bad Choice” and “Dying Young These Days” shows that Something Fierce isn’t ready to give up on teenage kicks anytime soon.