[15 July 2013]
Cherry Poppin’ Daddies never quite got the credit they deserved. They came into the public consciousness on the late ‘90s swing revival wave with the album Zoot Suit Riot. This disc showed a band with a knack for mixing up a cocktail of swing, jazz, punk, ska, and everything in between. They were somewhat fairly, somewhat unfairly lumped into the category of just another player in the huge stack of swing revival bands that came to prominence during this wave. Many of the bands who rose up in that wave flamed out by the end of the decade. The 2000s weren’t kind to the Daddies in the way of diminishing returns, so the much-talked-about return to a purely swing sound on White Teeth, Black Thoughts might seem like a move of desperation. This ignores that the band never really gave up on the swing sound—they just pushed it deeper into the background than before on albums like Soul Caddy and Susquehanna.
This album is short and sweet, opening up with a “Hello world, we’re back” flair with “The Babooch”. Characters like the troublemaker this song is all about are a dime a dozen in the swing music world, but they manage to churn out a sprightly rendition on the theme just the same. They occasionally steer a bit too close to sounding like their contemporaries in the scene. “Whiskey Jack” rides a melody and groove which is just a bit too close to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s “You & Me & The Bottle Makes 3 Tonight”. Not a blatant copy, but it skirts the edges of being one.
The Daddies know how to do slinky, slow-burning numbers well—only this time they don’t dip into this well till the album’s title track. This is but a brief eye of the storm that is this album, as they kick into “Brown Flight Jacket”, which has an opening synth fill that almost makes the listener think the band has gone techno. But never fear, swing fans, this is just an embellishment at the start to spice things up a little bit. And as much as this album is all about the band returning to a purely swing sound, the swing often comes across rather country-fried (see the somewhere between Elvis Presley and early ‘60s country mix-up that comes stampeding out of the speakers on “Bloodshot Eyes”.) They also have lost none of their bizarre/twisted/out of left field sense of humor. This is readily apparent just skimming the track list and seeing the song title “Jake’s Frilly Panties”.
This album shows the Daddies doing what they gained fame for in the late 1990s, and doing it well. What makes this album just a bit better is the cohesion—while Zoot Suit Riot could come off disjointed because it was a compilation built from cuts taken from three other albums, this time it feels more like everything that’s on the album truly belongs here. Zoot Suit Riot was savaged (some would say unfairly) for lacking a sense of what made swing fun in the first place. It may have been disjointed, but it still had that sense, despite what some say. And whether they’re singing the praises of bowlegged women, blinking their Bloodshot eyes, or just swinging along like it’s still 1997, they still have the sense of fun going strong here. If they did see the whole swing thing as just “one big hipster joke” would they still be doing it after all this time? Probably not. Whatever you may think of their previous output, White Teeth, Black Thoughts is a testament to their staying power and a worthy listen.