The Mighty Mighty Bosstones - While We're At It (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

While We're At It (2018)

Big Rig Records

Recently, an old friend sent me a link to a March Madness-style bracket of 90’s ska bands. Bands were pitted against each other and you had to predict which band would win out in the pairing, and ultimately predict what band would win the whole thing. I have no earthly idea what happened to the bracket or what band won, but it sparked a debate with me and some friends who took part in the bracket. My argument was that there was no good reason for any band on that bracket to beat out Operation Ivy. They’re the original ska-core band with the strongest lyrics and most powerful political statements. End of story. My friend Ryan, who had sent me the link in the first place, made the argument that the Mighty Mighty Bosstones were the best band in the bracket and his choice to win. He said he picked them over Op Ivy because the Bosstones had a much more extensive catalogue than Operation Ivy. I had to laugh, and told him the entire Bosstones catalogue doesn’t have the artistic integrity of Operation Ivy’s one and only album. He conceded this, but admitted that the years and years of Bosstones music held them closer to his heart, and I was willing to let it sit there.

This caused me to reexamine how I thought about the Bosstones. I’ve always enjoyed the Bosstones. Growing up in Rhode Island, our state capitol was one of their favorite cities to play in, as they were explicit in saying whenever they came through Providence. I have a lot of truly wonderful memories of Bosstones shows. Do I not take them seriously because their lyrics are weak? That didn’t add up because, while their lyrics are hardly Shakespeare, they’re still pretty good, and a few steps above what most ska bands churn out. I could only conclude that I think of them as a lesser tier band because they play such a formulaic third-wave ska style sound. But, the counter argument to that is, since the Bosstones were one of the first ska-core bands and, by extension, one of the founders of third-wave ska, can they really be faulted for continuing the play a formulaic style that they invented themselves. I came to the conclusion that my only legitimate complaint about them is that the raging punk rock and heavy metal guitars that were their trademark in the early days of such great albums as their debut, Devil’s Night Out, have long since been replaced by much lighter, more muted guitars, possibly because of the commercial success that this brought them with their one big hit, “The Impression That I Get.” So I resigned myself to go into While We’re At It, not looking at the Bosstones as a light novelty act, but as serious artists and important ska pioneers. And in doing so, I found myself even more disappointed.

While We’re At It is the Bosstones landmark tenth album, their first in seven years, and their third since their hiatus from 2003-2007. While they’ve gone through a number of major lineup changes over their years, they enter their 35th year with their original frontman, bassist, saxophonist, and that guy in the band whose job is just to dance on the stage. While We’re At It doesn’t offer much in the way of new territory if you’re looking for the Bosstones to branch out. It’s pretty much the same sort of fare you’ve heard from them since Let’s Face It, with very few highlights.

The opening track, “Green Bay, Wisconsin” blows the whole load for the album as it’s by far the best track on here. Musically, the song is a tribute to the history of ska, with its two-tone ska style verses and its third-wave ska style choruses. The song tells the story of a woman who quits her job to focus on being a full time ska music concert goer. The song is laden with name drops of ska bands like The Skatellites and The Pietasters, and lyrical references to bands like Madness. While the bassist for The Pietasters comes off as a bit of a stalker in the lyrics, the song is, overall, a joyous celebration of the genre, and the most energetic song on the album.

Other than that, there are few highlights to speak of. “Divide” is a very quirky ska-pop tune that doesn’t quite sound like anything I’ve heard before, but at a mere two minutes it feels more like a half formed idea that was abandoned before it could actually become anything. “Walked Like a Ghost” is, at best, mildly amusing with its blend of ska, jazz, and calypso, but it’s hard to take a song seriously when it has a horn riff that sounds like the theme from Mission Impossible. “The West Ends” is also, at best, just okay, with a good energy and a strong message about gentrification, but it doesn’t do much else to stand out from the pack.

The rest of the album blends into one uninteresting whole. The first single, “Wonderful Day for the Race” sets up a potentially interesting play on words with the ambiguity of what Barrett means when he refers to “the race,” but the chorus of “What a wonderful day for the race/Everywhere it’s taking place/I swear you’ll say one wasn’t run/I’m talking about the human run” strips the song of any lyrical ambiguity it could have had to make it a halfway interesting song. Songs like “The Constant,” “Hugo’s Wife,” and “Here We Are” are too blandly generic to warrant comment.

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones have accomplished a great deal in their career and they have a lot to be proud of. While We’re At It is not one of those things they should be proud of. Personally, I would like to see the Bosstones return to the harder rock style they gave us on their first few albums and remind us how much ska-core can truly rock.