Mad Caddies are reluctant to call this a ska album, which is too bad, because that's the only level on which it really succeeds.
It seems like much of the Fat Wreck Chords roster has an image problem to deal with. I mean, if you're looking for solid pop-punk these days, you could do worse than peruse the MP3s up on their site, because a lot of these bands are good. But, a lot of these bands also portray themselves as quite goofy. And well they should; pop-punk is often an admittedly goofy genre full of fun-loving, low-level pranksters singing three-chord quirky songs about inside jokes and skater girls. The problem is, every once in a while, these bands want to be taken seriously, at least on record. And such is the case with Mad Caddies' new album, Keep It Going.
There is definitely some fun to be had on this record. Opener "The Dirge" is a quick ska-punk blast that starts the disc with some serious high energy. "Backyard" comes next and slows the tempo, but amps up the horns to keep things going. And later on in the record, "Coyote" ends with straight pop-punk and provides one of the album's most purely fun moments.
However, the album is too often bogged down by pretensions. The band wants too much for the listener to believe the album was influenced by reggae and dancehall music, as if these are "more serious" influences that will give the album credibility. But, in the end, this is a ska-punk album. And any attempts at ambition ring a bit false. The "influence" of reggae usually manifests itself on Keep It Going only in singer Chuck Robertson's affected accent. He seems to think if he sings like a reggae singer, the songs will then be reggae songs. But the effort sounds forced more than reverential in most cases.
"State of Mind" is maybe the album's best song, because it relishes its ska leanings rather than try to falsely twist them into something they're not. Same goes for "Today", which is just a fun ska-punk song about drinking too much and trying to turn it around. The subject on that song is not given too much heft, and the music belies the tune's sentiment in a clever way.
Lyrically, the album isn't terribly strong, though it's not as weak as you might think, either. The problem, however, is that Robertson's affected vocals put more pressure on the lyrics to deliver. Strongly written songs are the only thing to overcome his fake accent, and the lyrics just don't stand up to the pressure more often than not. On "Reflections", the Caddies fall back on clichéd road-weary tropes to convey emotion. The song starts, "I'm lost again out on the highway, searching for answers that I fear", and it doesn't go anywhere new in the three minutes after that. Sometimes the music's energy drowns these moments out, but often the lyrics rely on oft-used generalities and it becomes easy to lose interest.
Keep It Going is a case of a band needing to accept themselves for what they are. As a ska album, Mad Caddies have done all right for themselves -- not brilliant, but solid. But the half-attempts at reinvention and ambition drain the energy from an album that could be a real pleasure, even with its moments of oversimplification. Mad Caddies have spent too many years not caring about being taken seriously, and to try for that sort of cred at this point in the game may not have been the smartest move.