The Noughties ska revolution never took off in the way some predicted it would. In fact, it never really took off at all. But it’s not been through lack of trying, thanks to a smattering of trilby-sporting indie acts who’ve dipped their toes in the waters of two-tone in the last half-decade – from Babyshambles and The Coral to Jamie T and Hard-Fi. Even The Vines had a go.
And there’s been the reformation of second-generation ska leading-lights The Specials. And, of course, those nutty boys Madness have been ever-present throughout the decade, either by way of touring, releasing the occasional album (including the amazing Liberty Of Norton Folgate, a recent career-high) or advertising fish fingers.
But whether or not it’s because ska seems to have earned itself some sort of stigma (probably at least partially due to the entirely US-based revival in the ‘90s, which gave us No Doubt and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones but also spewed out some truly awful music), these days no new act appears confident enough to devote themselves entirely to the genre.
So the fact that Kid British are a potentially-successful, new British act that embraces the ska genre completely makes this Stephen Street-produced (see—there’s even a big-name producer involved) debut all the more important. Kid British have received the blessing of The Specials’ Lynval Golding as well, who believes the Manchester four-piece are ‘‘carrying the baton.’’ He even asked them to support The Specials on their recent comeback tour.
Interestingly, though, Kid British stick closer to the joyful, everyman brand of ska we’d usually associate with Madness, rather than the politically-driven, epoch-making comments on a down-at-heel society tack The Specials themselves took. This is most blatant on single ‘‘Our House Is Dadless’’ – sampling, with great, unflinching audacity, Madness’ own ‘‘Our House’’ – a song that sits pretty high up in the annals of great British pop music.
And in sampling ‘‘Our House’‘, Kid British have set the bar unbelievably high – so it’s no surprise when the rest of It Was This Or Football fails to match the catchy, timeless pop of their genre’s leading lights – especially when, even on ‘‘Our House Is Dadless’’ itself, all they appear to bring to the table is cringing, obvious lines like ‘‘Our houses are dadless/no wonder our houses are Madness.’‘
They have a go at it though – and, as a matter of fact, you’ll actually find it hard to dislike the bulk of It Was This Or Football, from ‘‘Sunny Days’’ and ‘‘Rum Boys’‘, with their elated choruses and string-tinged ska-pop bounce, to the 90s Britpop-apeing sounds that make up ‘‘She Will Leave’‘, or the sweet ‘‘Gorgeous’‘, with a brass arrangement that calls to mind The Beatles’ ‘‘Penny Lane’‘.
When they keep the tempo up Kid British are at their best; it’s when they slow things down to a sun-kissed reggae pace that things can get a bit hit or miss. Things venture dangerously into mid-period UB40 territory on the carefree ‘‘Gonna Be Alright’‘; ‘‘Cosmopolitan’‘, however, sounds like a distant relation to Madness’ ode to London, ‘‘Day On The Town’‘. This is a good thing.
That aside, though, apart from a couple of throwaway tracks in ‘‘Drive Thru’’ and ‘‘Delivery Man’’ (the latter really is as drab as its title suggests) It Was This Or Football is a promising debut – and in its undeniable British-ness (from its title and the fact that the album was released in two parts, simulating the two halves of a football match, to its ever-present debt to Madness) it may just be the spark needed for the next, significant UK-based ska revival – exactly thirty years after the last one. Carrying the baton? We’re not quite sure about that yet – but it appears to be an interesting race they’re running so far.