*Sigh*, the `90s: the Chrétien and Clinton administrations are in full swing, Tom Cruise isn’t completely scary yet, and teenagers all across America are finding sweet release in the sounds of ska, pop-punk and hip-hop. As if to crack open a time capsule from this not so distant past, Ajax, Ontario’s the Johnstones release Word Is Bond.
The Johnstones combine the upstroke guitars, horn section and organ of third wave ska with power chords, acoustic guitar and funk leanings. They tend to have pop-punk-oriented lyrics focusing on girls and having a good time but also throw in hip-hop braggadocio. With these elements the band is extremely adept at transferring the most appealing quality of ska from the live setting to recorded form; that quality is fun. The silly lyrics, the multitude of instrumentation, and the many voices that chime in all sound like one big chaotic party. The only problem with that vibe is the album is too late for summer.
The opening song is a fairly standard ska-punk song, with “whoa-oh"s and the vocals delivered in an unintelligible skat-like manner, not at all bad but nothing too memorable either. Next comes the song “L.A.D.I.E.S.” which one almost feels guilty listening to and enjoying so much. Having ridiculously rapped verses with lines like "hey yo check it so ladies, why don’t you have all my babies, it’s doggie style but I don’t have rabies" that might make you cringe, but the way they are delivered you can’t help but smile. The chrous is an anthemic bit, using a catchy guitar line and repeated hook of "This is for the ladies!."
Mainly where the band falters is in the structure of the record. “Sunny Days,” which is an acoustic pop song with some light reggae tinges that would please the sandal and popped collar golf shirt-wearing crowd is really quite good (think Jack Johnson, that’s right, I know what Jack Johnson sounds like). It has an infectious breezy attitude, catchy lyrics, some nice room to just let the guitar play and the laid back rapping is reminscent of something like the Pharcyde. However the song comes in at track number 5, totally tripping up the moment the album was building. It would have been far more effectively placed at either the beginning as a pseudo-intro to the party or some calming hangover music at the end. Speaking of the end, the album's cohesiveness falls apart when it is coming to a close. It finishes on the completely unnecessary second version of “L.A.D.I.E.S.," and before that is the false ending of “No Song Here…” which is really a funky group rap after a few seconds of silence. It starts promising but is ruined by the use of the ever-classic “fart” bass and useless talking parts.
Beyond the structural problems, slightly weak lyrical content and one or two choruses that don’t really work, what you have is very enjoyable modern ska CD. If you are searching for a feel-good record to help melt away those dreary November days, this may be the one you're looking for. If you don’t like any rapping I do suggest you stay far away from this because there is a heavy emphasis on that sort of delivery.