The Slackers are anything but. They have released 12 LPs in 14 years, and many of those near or exceed the one-hour mark. The Great Rock-Steady Swindle, released last week, has arrived mere months after the rarities album, Lost and Found. Given the band's prolific nature, it should be of no surprise that TGRS finds the band continuing to push the limits of Slackerdom--three tracks forgo Jamaican skank altogether, while a couple more shake the skank temporarily, and they have sought a vintage, "one mic in a room" feel. In all, the album consists of 15 tracks selected from 28 recorded during the session, and it includes at least one composition from each band member.
This last fact--that each member contributed music--is the album's greatest strength and weakness. While it leaves the band with a plethora of material to choose from, it also leads to a few jarring transitions. Case in point: "Mr. Tragedy." Ara Babajian's first song for the band, it is a fun and goofy tune likely to be stuck in one's head hours at a time. But it simply does not suit the album, especially following a battery of melancholy first-wave ska/rocksteady grooves. The lyrics--"Black cats cross your path in the park / Pianos fall upon you in the dark"--are too sharp in contrast from the lyrical styles of the other members, who seem, of late, to be taking more cues from beat poets than Looney Tunes. "Mr. Tragedy" would have been a gem on Lost and Found, or a strong stand-alone single, but it is an outlier on this particular album.
Other lesser songs include "Long Way Off" and "Don't Look Back." While both are pleasant, neither commands attention. And ska has enough trouble garnering merit without its premier musicians aping Lion King riffs. But hakuna matata, I suppose.
Without breaking down every member's inclusions, this reviewer feels that one Slacker deserves special mention: Marcus Geard, bassist, contributes two tracks, both excellent. He is the unsung talent in the band. While his songwriting credits--and acclaim--are seldom compared to heavyweights Ruggiero and Hillyard, his contributions are, without fail, among the best of any given album, and they just might be the two strongest on TGRS. "Tool Shed" and "The TV Dinner Song" are instant classics.
The heart of the album begins with the 12th song, "Anastasia," and ends with the 15th, "The Same Everyday." The quality of this final barrage of songs is incredible, and it demonstrates a seasoned band flexing as much as it can without hyperextending. Acoustic balladry, Motown, rocksteady with country-western elements, and barn-burning '60s throwback ska pack into 14 minutes of sonic bliss, with songwriting credits spread equally among the four usual contributors.
During an interview conducted on the cusp of the album's release, Vic stated that the band planned to keep the album shorter than 15 tracks. However, they decided that they'd include the 15 strongest, as they deemed them, and let the listeners cut the running time as they see fit. The question that arises, then, is why did they stop at 15 when they recorded 28? There are 10-12 great tracks here, so their decision to dilute the final product slightly is a curiosity. As it stands, the album is an 8/10. Trimmed by 10 minutes and it's a solid 9. However, any complaint one might have about the Slackers can be assuaged in knowing that they will likely be readying a new album in a year or two.
By the way, Vic has alluded to there being some Sex Pistols buried in here somewhere (beyond the title). Has anyone made the excavation?