Despite its rebellious roots and endless dancability, ska can drive all but the most committed to boredom. And the late ‘90s alterna-ska variant didn’t do much to help matters. As ska moved from Jamaican soul music to American homogenized banality, bands like Hot Stove Jimmy interceded and saved ska from itself. The result of that mission is a genre-twisting cluster fuck—island music for the ADD generation. Shifting with ease and style through ska, punk, metal and hip-hop, Theme For a Major Hit is the rarest of breeds—experimental music that succeeds.
This, if you buy into such finality, is the last word in ska-punk. It’s equal parts Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life, The Pietaster’s Ooolooloo and Big Black. No one has mixed it up better. And certainly no one has re-imagined the genre so thoroughly and so thoughtfully. Some may decry Theme‘s stop-start abruptness and dismiss its quirks as slop. I think it’s flawless calculation without sounding calculating. Like the best punk, this stuff is always on the edge of falling apart and like the best ska, it moves and hammers out melodies and grooves.
But they’re never trading on their schizophrenia—they play each moment to the hilt. Genres are flashing by four bars at a time—but each one counts. It’s pastiche that actually matters. Vapid metal bursts are chased by jaw-dropping horn passages into drum and bass breakdowns but there’s still a song motivating it all. Which, in the end, is really the brilliance of this disc—for all it’s snide structure fucking, it never loses sight of the three minute form. It never forgets pop.
The question with a band this smart and edgy will always be its longevity. No innovation goes unpunished by obscurity. Enjoy ‘em while they’re here.
// Notes from the Road
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