Boston band becomes strictly rude
Like zombies, tax forms and Jason from the Friday the 13th series, ska just won’t stay dead and gone. Luckily, this isn’t such a bad thing, thanks to Boston ska masters Big D and The Kids Table. The group has been turning out all types of ska/punk gems for over a decade now, and has just returned with their fifth full length, Strictly Rude. While slightly uneven, Strictly Rude is a great album, not just from Big D and The Kids Table, but for the ska genre in general. For the most part, the band has dropped its punk edge in order to create a purely ska record, a la The Specials or The Toasters.
“Steady Riot” literally sets the scene for the album with its opening lines, “Lower Allston Rising/The music’s made on Boston’s dejected streets/In polluted rooms and sweat dripping ceilings.” On a lyrical level, Big D is still the same — the songs all still deal with jerks, poverty, good music, girls and having fun. Frontman David McWane sings here about how music keeps him from getting sucked down by lowlifes/funds. “Music, a steady riot in my soul” goes the chorus.
Strictly Rude hits its first snag with “Deadpan Face.” While by no means a “bad” track, “Deadpan Face” is certainly weak compared to the album’s other songs. Lyrically concise and instrumentally haunting, Big D tells a tale of looking at a creepy girl’s face. That’s it. Oh yeah, and it's really, really heavy on the reverb. “Deadpan Face” segues into “Snakebite,” a similarly decent tune.
However, after this double dosage of “eh,” the excellent title track follows. “Strictly Rude” is the most reggae song on the album, providing positive vibes as McWane courts a lovely Boston lass over a groovy bass line and melodica. It’s nice to see the Big D boys aren’t just aping Jamaican rhythms — they legitimately know their ska.
The tempo picks up a bit with the political “Try Out Your Voice.” While it lacks the anger of How It Goes’ incisive “President,” it substitutes vitriol for hope. The song concludes with, “Truth in the State of the Union address/Truth in this political process/I should not have to sing for this/Try out your voice/Now use it, use it/We are the people.”
In complete contrast to “Try Out Your Voice” is the incredibly sarcastic “Hell On Earth.” McWane throws his hands up in the air, frustrated with everyone and everything. Apparently, he wasn’t feeling the positivity of “Try Out Your Voice,” hence lyrics like, “Pro-life be carnivores/Pro-choice be whores/Let’s never help the bums.” Things even out later, but man, is McWane a bitter dude. Lines like “So let the damn cows moo/Let the children get abused/Let the goldfish swim outside” kind of weird me out.
While there are other solid tracks at the album’s second half, the best are the closing two — “The One” and “She Knows Her Way.” “The One” is a stunning, slow ska number in which McWane beseeches a friend, “I know you want to love her for the rest of your life/But man, this woman, her intentions ain’t right.” With its Caribbean orchestration, “The One” comes off like a B-side to The Little Mermaid’s “Kiss the Girl,” only like, you know, without the kissing. Or mermaids. Or anthropomorphic animals. But the reggae vibes are neat. Plus, I like to think of McWane as our generation’s Sebastian the crab.
The album’s seven-and-a-half minute closer, “She Knows Her Way,” is a lengthy but zesty number. Everyone shines here — Rogan’s guitar playing continues to morph and dance, the horn section (Stoppelman on trumpet, Ryan O’Connor on sax and Paul E. Cuttler on trombone) adds flavor and the rhythm section of bassist Steve Foote and drummer JR hold it all together in a most funky fashion. The highlight is perhaps JR’s snare drum rim solo because, c’mon, he’s soloing just on the rim. I don’t care if that’s false logic; that’s just cool.
Ska is often thought of today as a stagnant musical style. The third wave ska subgenre, otherwise known as “modern ska,” has existed for about 20 years or so with minimal improvement. But Big D and The Kids Table have plowed through mediocrity to craft a series of revolutionary and brilliant albums which single handedly reinvigorate the ska genre. Boston may be one heck of a ways away from Kingston, but Big D and The Kids Table have still mastered Jamaica’s eclectic musical style, as proven by Strictly Rude.
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