The entire story of the swing revival can be heard on Louis Prima’s Capitol Collectors Series collection. Every nonsense vocal phrasing, every punchy horn line and every jungle-book tom pattern can be found on that disc—with more conviction and heart than any Cherry Poppin’ Daddies record. A good 75% of so-called “modern swing” is a shameless lift of “Jump, Jive ‘an Wail” and most everything else is an embarrassing theft of the Italian swing-king’s other hits. Zoot Suit Revue (can these guys think of anything original?) acknowledge their debt to Prima and include his “Sing, Sing, Sing” to prove the point. Sure it’s shtick and no one is really taking this swing thing seriously, but between their bloated name, fedoras and tunes like “Bumpin’ Grind,” “The Money Don’t Go a Long Way” and “Money Cash” Zoot Suit Revue is just a bit, uh, obvious.
Each of the 12 tracks on Bold, Borrowed and New could sit comfortably on the Swinger’s soundtrack. More a hybrid of Squirrel Nut Zippers and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy than old school influences, they actually took time to list on their CD insert (Cab Calloway, Prima, Sinatra, etc.), this is swing distilled and filtered. There’s not one new idea, not one re-think of the original style and not a bit of effort made to reexamine the music they’re exploiting. Only Elvis impersonators value anachronism more. And while Bold, Borrowed and New is brilliantly played (drummer/songwriter Ivan Knight is a standout as is saxophonist Richard Tyznik) and produced, you just can’t help thinking you’ve heard it all before. But if you haven’t that’s fine too—because you won’t buy it for the memories, you’ll buy it because it’s got trend capital.
Did swing come back because it was such a great musical form in its own right—a castrated jazz with obtuse rhythms for the white kids who just couldn’t grasp the real stuff? More likely the slow death of ska’s third wave left a deluge of horn players who faced obscurity in the pop-punk of the late ‘90s. But to be fair, ska’s third time ‘round fused the traditional island rhythm with punk sensibility and a new versatility. Swing’s second incarnation is purely derivative. Someone just yells “fuck” every once in a while to let you know it’s Y2K.
ZSR’s Bold, Borrowed and New is a testament to how lost and be-riddled alternative music has become. What was once innovation is now a desperate search for virgin slabs of music history to reconstitute and mine for hipness. It isn’t post-modern pastiche. It’s outright theft. This disc is as temporary and fleeting as the movement that produced it.