If I were asked to come up with an album title for a band that’s been going for about 25 years (on and off), The Magic of Youth might not be the first thing that would spring to my mind. But the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, scarred from past battles (major line-up changes, a hiatus, the “death” of ska) retain a certain freshness, as well as a willingness, perhaps, to have an ironic jab at themselves, that justifies the title.
Much has changed in the band since their peak--the departure of key members Nate Albert and Dennis Brockenborough, who were important to the band’s sound and songwriting, being prominent. Dicky Barrett’s voice, once a mighty roar like some kind of drunken death metal bluesman, has settled too. He now sounds more like a singer, with a thicker American accent and a more mellow tone. Obviously, anyone expecting another Question the Answers is going to come away a little disappointed. But that doesn’t stop this being a great album.
Another change is the lyrics--past regrets have always been prominent for the Bosstones, with classics like “Toxic Toast” and “Someday I Suppose” tackling them head-on. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve noticed the album shows something of a more positive attitude about time and its passing--“Sunday Afternoons on Wisdom Ave.”, a sunny ska lark, talks about childhood lived in relative poverty, but is more positive and perhaps fair-minded than unhappy: Dicky says it was “nice to be there / It was nice to have.” The title track shows the decline of a relationship, speaking of an argumentative young couple and the horrible decline and early end of their lives. The chorus seems ironic, as the album’s title might: “Yelling and fighting / The magic of youth!” But at the end of the song, quite beautifully, it’s turned around. The couple are on their last legs, but have stayed together, Dicky subtly hinting at a deeper bond beyond the pain and anger--the last lines of the song tell us, “It’s all so exciting / The magic of youth!”
Another great thing about the songs is the music itself--“Sunday Afternoons” is delightful, and danceable, and the chorus is catchy. One can definitely hear the changes Lawrence Katz has brought to the band--a more definite reggae and pop-punk influence is there, as opposed to Nate Albert’s 2-Tone and metal. The gentle rock chords over the chorus and the little reggae fills between the simple upstrokes of the verses are great. In the title track he lays down a great, rocking riff in some of the instrumental parts, similar to Albert’s style, but in the verses uses the sharp strokes of soul guitar. Despite only maintaining one original member (a feat for a ska band, actually) the horn section is tight, and the band also seem to rejoice in going all-out on tracks--the title track brings in bells as the track crescendos, and “They Will Need Music” goes out of its way to be an epic, and has some lovely piano playing too, of the jauntiest nature.
Not all the album is fantastic. The chorus to “The Daylights” is so-so (it’s not the strongest opener) and a lot of the album seems to be quite regular ska-punk: good as Katz is, his specialty does not seem to be hardcore punk, and the mellowing of Dicky’s voice, though good for the songs at hand, would not be good for Minor Threat covers; so expect nothing like “We Should Talk.” Still, there are some straight-up anthems (including the unstoppable “Like a Shotgun”) and there’s some more interesting sounding tracks (the sparse “Disappearing” utilizes Katz’s guitar style well as Joe Gittleman lays down some great, funky bass). On top of that, there’s nothing wrong with some good old fashioned ska-punk (in my eyes, at least).
In the last track, the Bosstones announce the plan is to stick together--great! Not only do we get a chance to hear the classics played live, but they’re still making damned good records.