Mad Caddies - Punk Rocksteady (Cover Artwork)

Mad Caddies

Punk Rocksteady (2018)

Fat Wreck Chords

The Mad Caddies are at a point in their career where they can do whatever the hell they want and have proven that they are the King Midas of Fat Wreck Chords. Everything they touch turns to gold and their new album Punk Rocksteady is all the proof you need.

The idea of converting punk songs into reggae tunes had been discussed for some time now and it has finally come to fruition with 12 wide-ranging tracks that were handpicked by Fat Mike and the band. Every original song that was chosen for this album has a memorable melody that could easily translate to a reggae melody, though some of the quick chord changes were probably difficult to transform. But as the band has stated, a good song is a good song no matter what style it’s played in. The melodies on songs like “She” (Green Day), “2RAK005” (Bracket), and “Alien 8” (Lagwagon) are a perfect fit for reggae and reminded me how much I’ve missed these songs. It could be argued that the Caddies have actually enhanced some of these tunes with that chicka-chicka sound, running bass lines and tons of harmonies, though some punk purists may be upset with such drastic changes. And in some cases, the Caddies version may force the listener to enjoy the original song even more. For example, I’ve always seen “She’s Gone” as a deep cut in NOFX’s catalogue. But this version forced me to listen more closely and made me appreciate Fat Mike’s songwriting skills. Furthermore, the band uses the music to highlight the storytelling by slowly building up anticipation until you ultimately reach the climax of the song.

Most of the songs are recognizable at some point, but many of the tunes veer off towards that trademark Mad Caddies sound while highlighting various different reggae styles. In some cases there is a slightly different inflection in the vocals compared to the originals and at times it can be slightly disappointing that the vocals aren’t mirrored exactly. But upon listening further, this seems like a calculated move by the band to emphasize other parts of the song. For example, in “Sorrow” (Bad Religion), I kept waiting for Chuck to hit the high notes at the end of the chorus, but the band chose to go low and harmonize. It’s not until the very end of the song that the vocals finally hit that note, which ultimately offers a sense of relief and maybe even a little vindication. Another example of this comes on “Some Kinda Hate” (Misfits) where the vocals start low through the first verse and the first set of whoas. Once again, I was a bit disappointed. But then I got to the second set of whoas and it gave me chills when I heard the gang vocals in a higher register.

The band seems to have also made a conscious and calculated decision when deciding on what style to use for each song. In most cases, the style pays homage to the original bands in various ways. For instance, “Jean is Dead” (Descendents) has that SoCal reggae sound, while “Sink, Florida, Sink” (Against Me!) has more of a Caribbean feel. “AM” starts off with a Tony Sly-esque verse that sounds hauntingly similar to the No Use For A Name frontman. “Some Kinda Hate” sounds like it could have been in a soundtrack from a 1950s cult horror film. The album closes with “Take Me Home”, a fitting end that once again builds up suspense, via a Snuff-sounding organ, as the song progresses.

While I was eager to hear all twelve tracks on Punk Rocksteady, two of the songs I was most interested in listening to were the reworked tunes of Operation Ivy and Propagandhi. One of the most identifiable parts on this record is the opening to “Sleep Long”, but the tune completely changes style for the verse and the rest of the choruses with help from Aimee Interrupter and Joshua Waters Rudge of the Skints. And while this version is completely different, it is interesting to see how the band completely and successfully reworked this song. “...And We Thought That Nation-States Were A Bad Idea” was another song I was eagerly anticipating because it is a really difficult song to transform into a reggae tune. The Mad Caddies turned an angry, fast-paced, guitar-heavy song into an upbeat, horn-laced track with heavy harmonies. And to top it off, Fat Mike jumps in at the end of the song with a light-hearted jab at Propagandhi’s aversion to ska.

Compared to other Mad Caddies albums (putting the cover idea aside), it would not be their best record simply because it is all reggae and no punk, so therefore doesn’t highlight all of the band’s strengths. But considering the concept, it is an outstanding album and one of my favorite releases of the year. And while this album will probably piss off some of the punk rock police, Punk Rocksteady gave me a newfound appreciation of songs I haven’t listened to in a long time.