I’m sick and tired of reading piss-poor reviews of ska albums in mainstream publications.
Its not that I champion every ska band out there. If the shameful excess of the late 90s showed us anything, its that its incredibly easy to play bad ska music. What I see now, however, are the trend-jumping scumbags in the mainstream taking flying leaps off the ska bandwagon and landing, rather ridiculously, on the windshield of the emo one. In their fervor to distance themselves from anything related the style, most reviews I’ve seen have been written rather begrudgingly, without insight, and quite often with blatant inaccuracies.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones have been written off in this way. The All Music Guide said they sound like laid-back Smash Mouth. Alternative Press complained that Dicky Barrett whines too much (this from a magazine with Dashboard Confessional on the cover). Anyone who’s taken an honest listen to “A Jackknife To A Swan” can dispute those claims.
It’s a shame really, because “Jackknife” is the best album the Mighty Mighty Bosstones have released since “Question The Answers,” if not better. Master showman Dicky Barrett plays the everyman here, his all too honest lyrics more effective then ever. Bassist Joe Gittleman, fresh off his sojourn with Avoid One Thing, is much more noticeable in his contributions to the band’s songwriting. The horn section, with Chris Rhodes replacing Dennis Brockenborough, is energetic, crisp, and much far more active then on “Pay Attention.” Now on independent label Side One Dummy after years of major label expectations, the production has been noticeably toned town to a level much better suiting the band’s roots approach.
The results are simply phenomenal, as all the pieces seem to have fit perfectly this time around. From the driving punk rock of “Mr. Moran” to the urgent “I Want My City Back,” this is the hardest the Bosstones have played in years. Yet at the same time, songs like “Everybody’s Better” and “You’re Chasing The Sun Away” sound like vintage two-tone. Few bands in this style could pull off “The Old School Off The Bright,” which is one of the tightest songs the `Tones have written. Guitarist Lawrence Kats jumps seamlessly from street-punk choruses to skittering upstroke verses as the brass joyfully and confidently shouts along. Perhaps most surprising, but fitting seamlessly in with the band’s style and attitude, is the acoustic and bluesy “Seven Ways To Sunday,” complete with harmonica and gospel backing vocals. The 13 tracks go everywhere from hard-hitting, angry punk songs to rhythmic and joyful ska that would have Toots and the Maytals smiling in approval.
I’m overly positive, but then again I got into the punk scene in the early 90s through ska bands. I had no use for the heavy handed “grunge” the industry was pushing then, and I have no use for the heavy handed “emo” they’re pushing now. It’s in spirited albums like this that I truly enjoy music, and for that I can’t thank the Bosstones enough.