When Less Than Jake formed in 1992 and gradually introduced their gritty ska to the local punk scene, few could have envisaged that almost 15 years later they would not only still exist, but would still be pushing themselves to creative limits and serving one of the most diverse, and loyal, fanbases in modern punk.
From the raw, rumbustious punk of Pezcore, to the melodic ska of Losing Streak, and eventually the matured tones of Anthem, Less Than Jake can certainly not be accused of failing to evolve.
In with the Out Crowd represents Less Than Jake's biggest ever leap in creative direction, a status previously occupied by 2003's Anthem release -- their first of three on Sire Records, of Warner Brothers.
If there's one thing that a critic cannot stomach, it's change. In with the Out Crowd was always destined for negative appraisal from certain quarters; such is the mammoth progression in style. As tracks were made available for early consumption, and others leaked, debates on horn deprivation and a simple 'lack of ska' overshadowed the crescendo of anticipation. The album itself promises to silence doubters and almost certainly tempt more than a few skeptics into joining the ever-flourishing Less Than Jake listenership.
When the track listing for In with the Out Crowd was made public, some questioned the decision to open with "Soundtrack of My Life," but -- in context -- it works. Lyrically, "Soundtrack" sets the thematic tone for everything that follows -- a reflective but enthused overview of life's successes, failures and special 'someones,' with the customary societal and self-critique. "A Still Life Franchise" combines Less Than Jake's new found technical and musical maturity with remnants of their raw ska origins -- an understandably popular track.
"Overrated," on the other hand, is geared more assertively to a mainstream market. The obvious choice for the album's first single, this is Less Than Jake''s very own attempt at ubiquitous modern pop-punk; addictive but forgettable.
"Fall Apart" masks a catchy but uninspired chorus with breathtaking verses, which on their own are sufficient enough a hook to make anybody and everybody fall in love with the song. "Fall Apart" adheres more loyally to LTJ's staple conventions in terms of lyrics, as well as being the first IWTOC song in which Roger takes lead vocals. "In-Dependence Day" maintains the tone with snapping verses that bleed beautifully into a chorus that everybody will have to sing along to.
The horns make an assured return to prominence in the captivating "Don''t Fall Asleep on the Subway," which provides the perfect setup for the dual-singing masterpiece of "Landmines and Landslides" -- a heartfelt lament of life's inhibitions in the quest to move on.
When "'The Rest of My Life"' leaked in February it made waves among LTJ's followers -- a fair balance of positive and negative. The sombre tone is enthralling, but in no way comparable to any Less Than Jake release previous to it. The steady pace probably serves to emphasise the addictive and anthematic qualities of "Mostly Memories," one of the album's real standout tracks.
"Let Her Go" sparingly utilises the gang singing effect made popular by archaic hits like "Time and a Half" and "Where in the Hell Is Mike Sinkovich" -- not the strongest song on the album, but an energetic prelude to the masterful "Hopeless Case," a ballad-esque tale of contemplation and gratitude.
"P.S. Shock the World" is a fitting, horn-heavy close to an impeccably produced record and, in the opinion of some, the band's career. Vinnie hits out at those who suggest the band has seen better days, whilst leaving every LTJ fan with much to consider in the key line "all the things that I say will someday fade away, but the message in these songs has kept me sane all along." Profound reflection? Or swansong?
LTJ's more seasoned supporters will inevitably be disappointed at the further reduction in ska influence, but In with the Out Crowd can not, and should not, be compared to the albums that have gone before it. Viewed alone as an independent entity, it is easy to see why this album could easily go down as one of Less Than Jake's finest to date. Horns have always been, and always will be, a big part of Less Than Jake, but it certainly would be a shame to neglect a masterpiece like In with the Out Crowd merely for breaking convention.
Effusive, cathartic, influential -- brilliant. Less Than Jake''s return is a welcome and effective one. If we have to share this one with the dreaded mainstream I think we'll be quite able to grin and bear it. Isn't it about time people sat up and took note of one of the most commercially underrated (irony intended) bands of the past decade?