This is the part in the review where I'm supposed to denounce the use of sex in marketing and deny that the cover art had anything at all to do with why I picked up this particular CD in a mail bin of 100 others down at the station. But my New Year's resolution was to quit lying, so I'll make no such claims. Anywaysâ?¦
Victims of Circumstance is a three-piece ska-punk act out of Clearwater, Florida who managed to wrangle Tim "Johnny Vegas" Burton of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones into producing their debut LP, the aptly titled Do It Yourself, released by the band's own Financial Records. And along with scoring Burton to produce the album, VOC were also given the opportunity to join the Bosstones onstage for their annual Hometown Throwdown, along with Big D and the Kids Table and the Pietasters.
So if there's anything to be said from initial impressions -- and this is pre-listening, mind you -- Victims of Circumstance are off to a pretty good start. Not much changes when it's time to hit play, and the garagey riffs of "My Fate" crackle through the speakers. Granted, it's kind of an odd choice for a first song, as it's neither their best nor does it really epitomize what's to be expected in Do It Yourself. However, by the next track, complete with a perky upstroke lead and auxiliary horns, the impulsion to skank has made its presence known. For the next couple songs, the band gets a little sketchy, driving one song down Social Distortion lane (this is foreshadowing), while "Do Nothing (So Everyone Knows You Mean Business)" relates through an awkwardly placed whoa-along Ă¡ la Pennywise's "Bro Hymn." But it doesn't take long for VOC to get back in stride, as "Me and Alex P. Keaton" is both catchy and clever, as lead singer Mike Smyth asserts: "Calling soccer moms and NASCAR dads / To save the freedom land / We'll watch and believe everything we see / Reported on Fox TV / And we'll rally behind Bill O'Reilly / Against anyone who disagrees."
While it's hard not to discriminate against the majority of songs that don't have horns, the trombone (provided by Van Battle) and saxophone (courtesy of the aforementioned Burton) really add something to the songs where they're included. The best of these is the three-minute power-ska "Legacy," which yo-yos between horn-driven punk and upbeat ska. "The Distance" follows suit, with a couple cool licks from Burton's sax and a start-and-stop guitar part the band pulls off pretty well. To wrap things up, the album's "bonus track" is a ska-punk cover of Social Distortion's "Ball and Chain." And while I can't go so far to say that it's as good as the original, it certainly isn't butchered the way Reel Big Fish massacred "Story of My Life."
Like track 3 of Do It Yourself, this album is "Just Fine," and while it may show a band in the midst of a musical maturity process, Victims of Circumstance have put themselves in a surprisingly good position early with just one album under their belt.