Edna's Goldfish - Before You Knew Better (Cover Artwork)

Edna's Goldfish

Before You Knew Better (1998)

Moon Ska Records

In the late '90s, it is said (I was actually busy being 5 at the time), there were just too many ska-punk bands. On top of this, a lot of the bands were not particularly good, sticking to the formula and possessing inferior musical and lyrical skills to their predecessors. Though Edna's Goldfish, a cult favorite from this era, weren't as creative musically as the likes of Slow Gherkin or King Prawn, they took the classic ska-punk formula (blazing guitars, tooting horns, big hooks, sad-sack lyrics) and did it so, so well, bringing a touch of trad ska, some excellent musicianship and marvellous lyrics.

The album opens up with "I'm Your Destiny," one of my favorite songs ever, in spite of all the hipster cred that I might lose. It's like an advert for ska-punk: fun, danceable, catchy and with fine lyrics. "Salty tears on a mostly blank page / Because you chose to ignore me / Down on my luck because you didn't answer and the letter that you mailed / It wasn't for me." They seemed better when I was younger but they're still good, and upheld by great melodies, Brian Diaz's beautiful voice, and the musical backing: a joyous horn line, buzzing bass, sparkling upstrokes and a fantastic trumpet solo (such solos are common throughout the album, setting the band apart from more basic, punk leaning acts). A perfect, infectious pop song placed in ska-punk context. The almost equally brilliant "Eventually Anyway" follows straight after, which also fits this description.

Elsewhere, there are simple upbeat skanks with excellent horn lines, such as "If You Want It" and "Trace Your Steps," the gorgeous (and horn-less) "This is Not Here," and the chilled rocksteady of "Sunrise to Sunset." There are tracks that aren't so great, this being said. "Gone Away"'s juxtaposition between bludgeoning metallic guitars and upbeat ska sounds clumsy. And while some of the lyrics, like those of "This is Not Here," are well written and pretty, some are a little corny or juvenile. "Story" opens with "You tell me / A story / Of how things used to be / The story / Is boring / I don't pay any attention." Not quite poetry. The track also suffers from sounding like an inferior version of "A Perfect Day," which comes just after. Though the band aren't plowing through the same song over and over again, and add in elements outside the usual ska-punk spectrum, some listeners might find the album a little samey.

In spite of these problems, listening to Before You Knew Better just feels good. It's like the band perfectly nailed the formula. The horns, guitars and rhythm section work together perfectly. It's all insanely catchy, and there are moments that are genuinely beautiful or ecstatic, like the trumpet solo in "Eventually Anyway" or the melancholic melody of "This is Not Here"'s chorus. It's a good, solid album, and something of a classic in my eyes, imperfect as it seems.