Reel Big Fish - A Best of Us...for the Rest of Us (Cover Artwork)

Reel Big Fish

Reel Big Fish: A Best of Us...for the Rest of UsA Best of Us...for the Rest of Us (2010)
Rock Ridge Music

Reviewer Rating: 3.5
User Rating:

Contributed by: Skibz777Skibz777
(others by this writer | submit your own)

My sentiments toward Reel Big Fish are pretty much on par with most people: old stuff, yay; new stuff, ugh. Provided, my own "ugh" may be slightly more exaggerated than need be...for a band whose name I was once proud to brandish on my scrawny teenage torso via an assortment of colorful T-shirts, I'.
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My sentiments toward Reel Big Fish are pretty much on par with most people: old stuff, yay; new stuff, ugh. Provided, my own "ugh" may be slightly more exaggerated than need be...for a band whose name I was once proud to brandish on my scrawny teenage torso via an assortment of colorful T-shirts, I've since seemed to develop a sort of animosity towards my hometown band, something I chalked up to what I believed to be a sharply consistent decline in the quality of their studio material. But, cover albums or not, it's nevertheless impossible to overlook the monumental influence Reel Big Fish had on both contemporary ska (for better or worse) and on myself. I can't deny that I still love Turn the Radio Off--perhaps the greatest ska-punk album ever recorded--or that I still listen to Cheer Up! and even We're Not Happy 'til You're Not Happy every now and then. So where exactly did this recent antipathy stem from? Where did the Fish go wrong? Rather, where did *I* go wrong? I was determined to find an answer.

I'll admit, I was annoyed beyond rational thought and logic when I learned that Reel Big Fish were releasing yet another album of repackaged songs, only this time being a full LP worth of all-out re-recordings of their hit singles and fan favorites. This concept baffled me. I saw no reason why such a thing should be done outside of the obvious financial motives, but would Reel Big Fish really exploit such classic (and sacred, to those who wear checkered Vans) material in such a manner? Part of the reason those songs work so well is because of the specific context of their time period. Turn the Radio Off and its successors were quintessential slices of the SoCal zeitgeist of the late 1990s, a definitive product of a generational era portrayed so strongly in their music and lyrics: music that exhibited a bright, confident exuberance that only an ambitious young band on their way to the top could deliver and sarcastic lyrics dripping with a comic irreverence that only a snotty Gen X twentysomething could convincingly spew with an equally convincing sense of wreckless abandon. What could possibly be the message behind songs such as "Sell Out" or "Everything Sucks" as sung by a jaded thirtysomething professional musician, as opposed to a wide-eyed high school graduate working part-time at the TwisteeBurger? When does the smirking juvenile mentality of "In the Pit" or "I Want Your Girlfriend to Be My Girlfriend" go from hilarious to creepy and pathetic at the hands of men old enough to have children and mortgages? Surely, forcibly removing those songs from their original context and attempting to re-record them would sacrifice all of their charm and soul, yes? I was enraged, yet...intrigued. The thought of newly re-recorded tracks of songs I had previously known so well just slowly gnawed away at my psyche until I had no choice but to give into my curiosity and take a gander at a stray copy.

I'll be honest, I was expecting/hoping for the worst...I was ready to tear this album to shreds. EEEeehEE hEE!!!

But...goddammit, I really enjoyed it.

The moment the music started, I knew I wouldn't be able to review this album with a negative bias. Come on, I grew up with these songs! I still remember all the lyrics. I still know how to play "She Has a Girlfriend Now" on trombone, solo and all. From those first five notes of "Sell Out," the whole thing became an inevitable thrust down Memory Lane: there I was, buying Why Do They Rock So Hard...? at Circuit City in 8th grade, sketching the RBF logo on my notebook (next to logos for Bauhaus and my own fantasy ska-punk band, Liquid Sheep) and wearing Hawaiian shirts on an almost daily basis. Yes, there are a lot of fondly nostalgic moments to be had on A Best of Us for the Rest of Us and, I'll admit, not many moments when I didn't have a wide, drooly smile on my face.

I don't quite want to say that listening to A Best of Us for the Rest of Us was like experiencing these songs for the first time all over again, but truthfully, it came pretty close. While the manic energy of the original recordings is sadly lacking here, replaced by an almost laid-back tone (a ska-punk oxymoron?), a lot of the older songs have greatly benefited from a decade's worth of tightened instrumentation: "Everything Sucks" sounds absolutely fantastic, and tracks like "Trendy," "She Has a Girlfriend Now" and "In the Pit" have somehow managed to still stay just as fresh, lively and vibrant as they were before.

The most interesting entry, perhaps, is the seemingly self-aware re-do of "Sell Out." Almost as if in response to the concerns over context stated above, Reel Big Fish is all too aware of the song's meaning several years down the line. The music seems almost intentionally lethargic, with Aaron Barrett's voice carrying a tinge of weariness and conscious cynicism. When he faithlessly sings "And I don't think it will be so bad / And I know it won't be so bad" in a drab yelp, there's not an ounce of believability in his words, lending an interesting spin to this version--nay, sequel--to the original: This is most definitely the bright young man we heard 14 years ago, his excitable, naïve optimism having since been crushed long after obtaining exactly the fame he was looking for, something he's been paying for ever since. Maybe I'm reading a bit too much into it, but if this was Reel Big Fish's intention, it was brilliant. Hilarious, subtle and scathing in ways heavy-handed diatribes like "Don't Start a Band" failed to achieve.

While a few of these re-recordings fail to live up even to live album standards (namely the listless retreads of "Take on Me" and "Beer," plus that god-awful ska-ified cover of "Brown Eyed Girl" [Magadog still did it best]), A Best of Us for the Rest of Us's biggest flaw is, understandably, redundancy. This collection is still exactly what it said it was: re-recordings. Nary a note is altered from the original compositions, and while the Fish may certainly sound tighter this time around, the novelty of hearing new takes on old tricks is over immediately after the album finishes (save for a few singular replays from the first half), leaving the non-completist stuck realizing that none of these versions will be replacing the originals on their iPod any time soon and this CD will instead be collecting dust on a shelf between Ratt and the Righteous Brothers until a friend asks to borrow it. C'est la vie.

Now, for the "newbie" buying their first RBF record, I really can't say that A Best of Us for the Rest of Us takes serious precedence over ANY other entry in their discography, when Turn the Radio Off is the sole starting point a beginner really needs (seriously, is there any reason NOT to buy that album?). The average Fish-head, of course, will purchase this album without any second thought, but this time I can't fault them for it. This is a pleasantly surprising nostalgic treat for anyone who has called themselves an RBF fan at some point in their lives. True, it's an ephemeral pleasure, existing at the point on a fun scale between hearing these songs performed live and hearing them on a live album (or the original studio albums), but, if anything, it's a fine reminder of exactly what made me fall in love with Reel Big Fish all those years ago...

And...I think I do still love them. Maybe I've always loved them, but I-...I was just too scared to admit it. In all my years of bitter ska elitism and haughty musical pretentiousness, I forgot how to have fun. I forgot how to appreciate the carefree, joyous nature of being a young ska fan, the experience that Reel Big Fish embodied so well in their sunny music. AaAhHHhhH, just listen to those trumpets! Listen to those major chords! Listen to those lyrics that AREN'T about class struggle or allusions to Greek literature! I CAN SEE IT NOW! Really, I feel that I can finally put aside my misguided pretentions about what ska is or isn't and re-embrace one of the best bands of my adolescence!

...then I listened to the 'Skacoustic' disc.

The acoustic tracks border on atrocity. While the prospect of Reel Big Fish songs re-arranged for an acoustic toss-about is an amusing concept, the actual execution is far from coherent. Each song is still packed with the same insufferably enthusiastic brass, bass and drums as the originals, the only difference being acoustic guitars used in the place of electric. The effect is more annoying than unique, and the lack of creative liberties being taken with the arrangements (much more than with the previous disc, granted) just begs the question as to why an acoustic album was even considered in the first place. "Beer" is the only one of these straightforward covers that makes a successful transition, and the few tracks that were converted into acoustic arrangements, including "Where Have You Been?" and "Don't Start a Band," sound decent enough but fail to make any sort of memorable impression. Acoustic ska (I refuse to acknowledge the "word" "skacoustic") has been done before, and it's been more or less perfected. I can't imagine this effort being anything more than a jokey novelty on Reel Big Fish's part rather than an actual contribution to the genre (i.e. I'm not holding my breath for a future "Unplugged" tour).

Having caught a vigorous wave comprised of wistful nostalgia and wine coolers, I was all set to contentedly award this album with 4 stars, but, alas, that acoustic album ended up harshing my mellow down into a 3.5. Although these new recordings probably won't win the band any new followers, RBF diehards are bound to have a temporary hoot and a half.


People who liked this also liked:
Rancid - Life Won't WaitAlkaline Trio - GoddamnitRancid - ... And Out Come The WolvesRancid - IndestructibleThe Suicide Machines - Destruction By DefinitionRancid - Let's GoOperation Ivy - Operation Ivy [reissue]The Menzingers - Chamberlain WaitsBomb the Music Industry! - Adults!!!: Smart!!! Shithammered!!! And Excited by Nothing!!!Reel Big Fish - Live! In Concert! DVD

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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
WillRBF94 (January 19, 2011)

incredible album, my favourite comp album of 2010, SKAcoustic remakes are fucking amazing! Aaron Barrett & RBF are brilliant!!

devianter (September 23, 2010)

awful ska-ified cover of "Brown Eyed Girl" [Magadog still did it best])
OH, shut the fukc up!

Slazey (September 7, 2010)

Really enjoyable review, though I might feel differently if I was looking for a quick summary.

rocksolidaudio (September 6, 2010)

very nice review sir. i think i'm in the exactly demographic of long-time RBF fan who just may appreciate this. maybe. i'll check it out.

TahoeJeff (September 5, 2010)

I've tried to listen to this twice. Both times, I found myself stopping and listening to the original recordings instead. THere's no energy.

superskabro (September 4, 2010)

skibz777 strikes back with ANOTHER senior thesis paper on a 90's ska band. This dude is awesome!

rhombulus (September 4, 2010)

stephenharris: go listen to Chris Murray

fresnoska (September 4, 2010)

"When was acoustic ska perfected? I'm genuinely interested."

Chris Murray, case closed.

dX927 (September 4, 2010)

"2) Who (if anyone) guests on "She's Got a Girlfriend Now"? I looked up Monique Powell recently, and apparently she's doing the studio singer for-hire thing now, I'm guessing she's out of RBF's price range. Also, the garage rock band she had for a hot minute sounded pretty damn good."

Katrina Kinzler on the electric version and Laila Khan (of Sonic Boom Six) on the acoustic version

timorous_me (September 4, 2010)

I had no interest in hearing this album until I read this review, so you did a good job (though I'll agree, a little on the long side). For anyone who has heard this, is the version of "Where have you Been?" the more ska-ish version of the song they were playing live around the time the album was released, or is it similar to the original version?

stephenharris (September 3, 2010)

When was acoustic ska perfected? I'm genuinely interested.

scorpiondeathlock (September 3, 2010)

its funny cause it was on seinfeld.

fresnoska (September 3, 2010)

Crystal clear, thank you

sorryicrashedit (September 3, 2010)

There are two different kinds of royalties...performance royalties and arrangement royalties. If you record an album on a label, you are for certain signing away performance royalties to them. They own the recorded tracks of your album.

I couldn't take the 'Fuel for the Hate Game' album version of the HotWaterMusic song "220 Years" for use in my movie/video game/tv show without clearing it with HWM and No Idea Records first.

I couldn't COVER the song and sell it without clearing the arrangement rights. Those are sometimes retained by the musicians, and sometimes owned by the label.

RBF circumvented the performance copyright of their previous album by recording the songs again. They had the arrangement rights to do this.

Make sense?

drunkwithpower (September 3, 2010)

lol you wore hawaiian shirts

fresnoska (September 3, 2010)

Can anyone answer this question. If JIVE owns the masters, and RBF re-records their songs, does a percentage go to JIVE since they are technically covers? How does this work. RBF pays themselves royalites, I don't know....

fox82 (September 3, 2010)

I like the idea of 'best of' compilations being comprised of re-recordings, rather than originals; anybody with a CD writer (or CD audio ripper / mp3 converter) can put together a compilation of a band's back-catalog that will usually be more entertaining, career-spanning and interesting than whatever a band chooses or perhaps a record label dictates. So by re-recording a bunch of songs you can offer your fans a slightly different experience of their favourites, especially when it comes to songs that were recorded and produced ages ago and could do with an update. That said, there is a good chance they totally get it 'wrong' and ruin the song, but that's the gamble. Still, I would rather get re-recordings than a live record.

By the way, this review was WAY too long. I get the reviewer's enthusiasm for the band, but seriously, you could have conveyed the very same sentiments in less than half the length. Spend more time editing, you are writing for 'punk kids' with short attention spans.

Cos (September 3, 2010)

Boy this was long, and failed to address my two biggest questions:
1) How can these re-recordings possibly sound better than the John Avila-produced ones?
2) Who (if anyone) guests on "She's Got a Girlfriend Now"? I looked up Monique Powell recently, and apparently she's doing the studio singer for-hire thing now, I'm guessing she's out of RBF's price range. Also, the garage rock band she had for a hot minute sounded pretty damn good.

funkymonk012 (September 3, 2010)

solid review, dude. thanks for the perspective and narrative. i wish more reviews on this site were like this in terms of context.

i can say that i was not going to check this record. your review convinced me to at least do that. kudos.

xchemicalx (September 3, 2010)

I stopped reading right here: "Turn the Radio Off--perhaps the greatest ska-punk album ever recorded"

Why read the ramblings of an imbecile?

Tudor (September 3, 2010)

Well written but wordy review, I got about half way down and stopped reading. I have the attention span of lake trout.

misterspike (September 3, 2010)

This is an awful long (albeit well-written) review for an album that is a re-recorded "greatest hits". I'll stick with their double live CD/DVD that
came out a few years ago. What else does anyone really need?

Sandsky (September 3, 2010)

I agree with the gimper here: the acoustic ska portion of this release pleased me in ways I cannot explain. You're right in saying there is not a trace of originality in terms of the interpretations given to the songs, but some gems that missed out on a proper re-recording (241, Scott's a Dork and The Kids Don't Like are the only ones I can think of off the top of my head) are contained on this apparently underrated component of the cd.

Rastid (September 3, 2010)

good review. should check this out. i will always love rbf.

meltingplastic (September 3, 2010)

I've yet to pick this up, but I do plan to. I know a lot of people are mad about the whole re-recording thing as if it is some sort of gimmick but its not. Jive still owns ALL their masters so if RBF wanted any of their hit songs, they had to rerecord them.

lanceuppercut (September 3, 2010)

Very good review, if not a bit long. It does seem like the energy has been sucked out of these songs but I like the suggestion that (on Sell Out at least) it was intentional.

fresnoska (September 3, 2010)

I took a break from studying to read this review. I stopped halfway and I'm gonna continue reading applied behavioral analysis. Shit, the chapters in my textbook are shorter.

GodKill123 (September 3, 2010)

Really I was hoping for the wrost. But then I gave it a listen to.

Some songs they re-record are better then the old ones! I mean, Everything sucks never sounded so great, In the Pit Sounds so much better, I can finally like Where Have you been? and love Don't Start A Band.

I wish that they could include more songs from the We're not Happy. Because even for a poorly recorded album, alot of good songs sould of been re-recorded.

And I was really happy with all the Why Do they Rock so hard songs. I thought they would fuck it all up, but yet, they didn't, and it may not sounds as perfect as Why? but it's still a great.

thegimper (September 3, 2010)

This was a solid review, I'll admit. But I absolutely loved the acoustic side of the album.

Nice work Skibz.

mikexdude (September 3, 2010)

Wait, what just happened?

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