Ska: The Third Wave
Continuum Records featuring Pieeaters, Scofflaws et al
If scientists were able to distill fun and then convert it into music they would probably end up with something very close to ska. Ska is not the kind of music that you listen to and think, "The piece's harsh harmonies challenges conventional tonality," or "I'm really moved by its passionate lyricism." It's the kind of music you listen to and dance to-its hard to avoid moving your body-and think, "Gee, that was fun!" The ska sound centers around a some-what sped-up reggae beat, carnival-type rhythms, frequently humorous lyrics, large bands (sometimes more than seven people) and lots of bass and brass.
Ska bands regularly sell out small club shows, but rarely have they achieved any kind of mainstream success. Even the relatively well-known bands such as Fishbone and The Mighty Mighty Bostones, two bands that have gotten a more mainstream following in recent years, still have drifted more towards hard rock. Ska fans are undeterred however, for they are an extremely loyal group, eagerly flocking to shows in and around Boston all decked out in the ska uniform of sport coat, dress shirt and thin black tie.
Continuum Record's most recent ska compilation Ska: The Third Wave, although probably unnecessary for any die-hard fan, is for other audiences a valuable introduction to the wonderful world of ska. It features fourteen songs from ten bands, including songs from such legendary acts as The Toasters and The Scofflaws.
The album gets off too a fast and strong start with the Mephiskapheles' catchy little ditty "Doomsday." The next song, "Too Stoopid," by Mustard Plug is one of the funniest songs on the album. With a chorus of "I wanna love you but you're too damn stoopid/ I wanna love you but you're just plain dumb," it is clear that Mustard Plug is a band that unlike so many bands does not take themselves too seriously and enjoys making fun music.
The Scofflaws' ode, "William Shatner," is another prime example of the gleeful nature of ska. Dedicated to the actor of Star Trek fame, the few words of the song not suprisingly treat William Shatner as a mere synonym for Captain Kirk: "He's got a fine tan shirt with an emblem on the chest/ The interstellar girls all like him the best." MU330 from St. Louis also show their wackiness with the song "Stuff." Described playfully in the liner notes as being "a hopeless romantic sort of thing, really," this tune contains such memorable lines as "I'm just so tired of romance/ I just want to get in your pants."
Another highlight of the cd is "Dub 57 (Remix)," by The Toasters. The speedy rasta/hip hop-esque vocals and funky rythums make "Dub 57 (Remix)" a very exiting, highly danceable tune.
The album also features two very sucessful and quite different instrumental tunes. The first of these, "Factory Concerto (Remix)," by The Pietasters is a brief, but potent piece. With its heavy drums and trumpet, the song's rhythmic intensity builds extremely effectively, creating a fun and somewhat eerie mood. The second instumental, "Hi-Ball," by Skavoovie and the Epitones provides a marked contrast. Slower in pace, with piano, heavy bass and lots of horns, it shows the influence of lounge and jazz styles.
Ska: The Third Wave does have some weak spots. The Insteps' "Shotgun Jimmy" and Ruder than You's bizarrely serious "Swallow Blood" stand out as slightly inferior tunes. But even these songs are not bad, they are just not as strong as the rest of the album.
Overall, Continuum Records has managed to put together a remarkable collection of tunes, which will hopefully initiate more people into the realm of ska. Too many of us are set in our musical views these days, and ska is certainly worth a try. The frantic, danceable nature of ska may not be ideal for the common room, so the thing to do is to look for posters in the Square and go to a ska show. It will probably set you back a total of five dollars and a couple hours. A close second would be to pick up a copy of Ska: the Third Wave.