The Kings of Nuthin' - Old Habits Die Hard (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Kings of Nuthin'

Old Habits Die Hard (2010)

Sailor's Grave

Back in the swing and ska craze of the 1990s, a lot of bands in those styles were involuntarily siphoned into the punk scene like Squirrel Nut Zippers and Cherry Poppin' Daddies. But few bands with brass-and-key ensembles (Royal Crown Revue excluded) were actually conceptualized as punk bands until the turn of the millennium with acts like the World/Inferno Friendship Society and our subject here, the Kings of Nuthin'.

Boasting tenor, baritone sax, piano and even washboard amidst the standard rock instrumentation, the Kings of Nuthin' command an impressive arsenal and an eight-man roster. Even more importantly, they have the style and swagger to boot, led by the crotchety vocals of Torr Skoog and with guest windpipes by Lenny Lashley (Darkbuster/the Piss Poor Boys), Kevin Stevenson (the Shods), Stephanie Dougherty (Deadly Sins), and guest bass saxophone by Dana Colley of famed Mass jazz band Morphine.

Despite the big band sound, the Kings of Nothin' drop working-class jams on their first original LP since 2002's Fight Songs. The rip-roaring songs are usually kept between a minute-and-a-half to two-and-a-half minutes, which is a perfect amount to let the instruments run wild without getting played out and repetitive. Packing gang shouts, horn bursts and jiving piano pounding, the Kings of Nuthin' provide the perfect backdrop for Skoog's lively vocals and wrong-side-of-the-tracks storytelling.

There are the occasional expected truisms of old-time working-class party music like "Rhythm and Booze" and "Sick and Tired," but overall there isn't much to complain about lyrically on Old Habits Die Hard. Amusing tracks like "Flake" add a levity that even out the album nicely, with witty lines that suggest "You say you're coming over, I'm not holding my breath / I'd suffocate waiting, it would be my death / And you're such a flake you wouldn't make my funeral." Then there are others whose lyrics belie their cheery instrumental background, like "No Responsibility," which warns "You can run around as much as you want / But you'll never outrun the thoughts in your head / You can abuse yourself as much as you want / But you'll only hurt your friends instead."

With 18 tracks clocking in at 45 minutes of jazzy, jiving, masterfully composed punk rock and juggling some eight members and six guests, it's no wonder it's been six years since their last proper LP. Old Habits Die Hard has been worth the wait, though, as the Kings of Nuthin' deliver a swingin' punk record for the dance-happy masses.