Big D and the Kids Table have always challenged themselves within their ska tunes, bouncing from ska-punk to two-tone to techno to hip-hop to the Salem witch trials over the years. With their new full-length Fluent in Stroll, the Boston band takes on two new skancepts, with the first being LOVE. Ska songs about romance are perfect for summer, and Fluent in Stroll delivers another in a series of strong albums from the D. It's also the first D record that isn't a tribute to a style, but rather a new innovation called "stroll," a mix of double-dutch, ska, reggae and soul. The band's punk elements are pretty much gone -- most noticeably on tracks like "Stop, Look & Listen (Shake Life Up)" and "Known to Be Blue" -- and this new sunny, fun genre complements the love songs better.
The fellas receive further help with their odes to the opposite sex from backing vocal group the Doped Up Dollies. The quartet announces their presence right away on Track 1, "Doped Up Dollies on a One Way Ticket to Blood." They get fun times rolling with Internet references and schoolyard rhymes. Frontman David McWane carves out a little vocal niche for himself, describing his special lady friend as "See my mujer impressionante is known to dance / with sleeping feline eyes / 'Cause she's a long cat / a sly cat / Not someone going your way / She's quite a little ninja / My tough little ninja." Later in the song, McWane and his chick escape on an elephant after busting a crime, which explains the ninja bit. Also, yeah, this song is awesome. The Dollies are a welcome addition to the group, enhancing the D's songs without cluttering them up. From the dubious boozing advice of "A Kiss a Week" to the posi-love jam "We Can Live Anywhere!" to the raucous lecturing of the title track, the Dollies provide a highlight in a record already full of 'em. I hope the lasses tour with the band and, if so, serve up their own interpretations to the band's older material.
Not that the record lives and dies on the Dollies' breath. "Describing the Sky" recycles the horn section from "Shining On," but it's a good part, so the song gets a passing grade. Big D deserves an A+, however, for Track 3, "Not Fucking Around." Hit with a series of ridiculous hypothetical questions meant to test his fidelity, McWane fires back with brilliant responses. My favorite Q and A is the first verse: "If I found myself stranded on an island with six million girls / Well I'd put them all to work / We'd build a kickass sailboat / To get me back to you / See I'm not fucking around." The song also recalls "Shining On," if only because two years later, McWane is finally ready to say, "I'm damn well smart / And I know what I got / And I won't be fucking around." "Where Did All the Women Go?" is another statement of fidelity, with McWane going from being awash in wrong girls to seeing his one 'n' only. It's another in a series of airy, cool jams.
Big D has always been good at closing out their records, and like "Moment Without an End" and "She Knows Her Way" before it, "We Can Live Anywhere!" is a damn fine hummable finale. A welcome upswing after the lumbering, slightly disappointing "My Thoughts Take Me Away," the song condenses Away We Go's optimism and romance into three minutes, 41 seconds, and without all those uncomfortable scenes about miscarriages and vaginal flavor. A haunting saxophone jazz solo segues into a rolling drum beat, chiming voices and McWane's assurance that "We can live anywhere / Pack your your things up c'mon let's go / Didn't you know we own this world? / Yeah we can live anywhere." Plenty of political artists from the Bush era have struggled to find something to say in the Obama age, but Big D and the Kids Table successfully bring hope 'n' change on this track.
To a certain extent, Fluent in Stroll shouldn't shake up listeners quite as much as Strictly Rude. The band's break from punk is complete, bringing them closer to the English Beat than Less Than Jake. And while there isn't a single "Checklist" or "L.A.X." to rock the mix, Fluent in Stroll is a cohesive record. The title has a double meaning -- this is a band comfortable with its style and its meaning, not to mention enough sense to avoid power ballads.