Dan P. - To The Lions (Cover Artwork)

Dan P.

To The Lions (2016)

Really / Quote Unquote

Dan Potthast deserves great credit for consistently finding new ways to keep acoustic ska interesting. Way back in 1999 he kicked off his solo career with Eyeballs, which was a little one-dimensional but a lot of fun. But 2012’s Around The World was an intriguing concept, comprised of songs hastily written on tour about the cities he visited. Often short and cheerfully tongue in cheek (“Leicester, Leicester, it’s got extra letters”), they showcased a mixture of styles but with the healthy dose of ska you’d expect from the MU330 frontman. And 2014 saw him eschew commercial venues to embark on a lengthy tour of fans’ living rooms and backyards, promoting the aptly titled My Living Room. The ska influence had all but vanished on that record, and it doesn’t reappear on his latest effort To The Lions.

So no upstrokes then, but this is the first of Potthast’s solo records to be fleshed out by something approaching a full band. Bass is played by fellow ska survivor Rick Johnson of Mustard Plug, and Potthast’s wife Shannon Toombs’ vocals lend some welcome colour, whether taking lead or harmonising with Dan.

The album dabbles in various styles – several songs have a hint of countryish twang, and there are occasional shades of Elvis Costello, vocally if not lyrically. “Day Off” is fun, although it sounds like it was written for Mike Park’s children’s music label, Fun Fun Records. Among the glut of punk frontmen gone solo, Potthast’s wide-eyed optimism has more in common with, say, Kepi Ghoulie than with any of the Revival Tour cohort.

There’s not much light and shade here – Potthast’s default setting seems to be “relentlessly chipper”. Songs like “Beautiful Night” and “Crush” are either refreshingly un-cynical or cloyingly sentimental depending on your tolerance for lyrics like “I’ve got a crush on the world, in love with every boy and every girl” and “Look at the trees… the leaves make out with the sky”. Even on the pleasantly twangy “Shazam”, when he’s singing that he’s “got no backbone, not a leg on which to stand” he sounds chronically cheerful. My wife recently gave birth to our second child, so I’m pretty much walking on air at the moment, but even I find the sweetness hard to swallow at times.

The few tracks which do buck the trend provide the album’s standout moments. “World Won” is suitably world-weary, and “The Lie” ups the pace and the volume to good effect, with a sly lyrical nod to the Clash (“I fought the lie but the lie won”). But the real highlight is “Back Again”. It’s a belter, with driving bass and some pleasingly over the top classic rock guitar licks that will keep you coming, er, back again.

Criticising this record feels a bit like kicking a puppy – Dan P. is happy and he wants to sing about it, and why the hell shouldn’t he? Like Mike Park, everything he does is so relentlessly, infectiously enthusiastic. To The Lions is a record of unbridled joy – add half a star if it’s sunny and you’re in the first flush of love; subtract one if it’s raining, you’ve just been dumped, or some other minor disaster has recently befallen you, like you’ve run out of your favourite breakfast cereal.