Wednesday, May 2, 2012

36 Songs, 36 Days (2012 Edition), Day Twelve: The Shark Fighter! by The Aquabats

It's another return to the shores of ska....and you'd think I'd be pretty excited.


Some time ago, I said when writing about Jane Siberry , "while I am always for an artist evolving and growing...I have to also accept that sometimes an artist will evolve and grow into something I won't care for." 

These words come to me again as I listen to this, without a doubt the best cut off of the Aquabat's latest album.

The Aquabats are a ska outfit from California, and I first became aware of them when the great cartoonist and ska aficianado Evan Dorkin namechecked them in one of his many cartoon strips. Not surprisingly, the first song of theirs I heard was their theme for Welcome To Eltingville, the aborted pilot for Cartoon Network based on one of Dorkin's creations. I liked that song so much I sought out a lot of their work and liked much of it. It was ska, plus it had that proto-geekcore obsession with the ephemera I tended to love--let's be honest, people, third wave ska was geekcore before geekcore was even invented yet. And I even liked the strange affectations of MC Bat Commander, who always sounded like a game show host who lost his way. Yeah, this is one of those bands that changes its line-up more than some geeks change their underwear, but for a long time their music was consistently satisfying.

But this year, when Hi-Five Soup came out, I had an odd feeling picking it up. Maybe it was the way every single cut on the album had an exclamation in its title. Maybe it was seeing long time guitarist Chainsaw, Prince of Karate's name absent in the line-up.

Of course, maybe it was just because the songs, well, sort of sucked.

I guess while I wasn't paying attention, as The Aquabats divested themselves of their horns and brass, they were quietly transforming into what we used to call a 'college rock' band back in the 90's, only one with serious geek intentions. You know, like Weezer....only not.

This is probably the most Aquabats sounding song on the whole album, which is why it's probably my favorite. A sort of television pilot in song form, 'The Shark Fighter!' is the story of a Shark Fighter (well, duh) who has been on a crusade to eradicate sharks ever since a shark killed his girlfriend. Even though the brass is noticeable in its absence, the band still manages to simulate a ska-like sound through some really bright guitar work from new addition Eagle 'Bones' Falconhawk, vigorous drumming and a really compellingly odd backing vocal. It's goofy fun that's exactly what I used to expect out of this band, and if there were more songs like this, I'd be singing a different tune.

Look, I can understand why the group seems to have moved away from its ska roots and repositioned itself as a geekcore outfit. It's not like a fourth wave ska revival is coming anytime soon. But I can't help thinking that this particular song showed that the Aquabats were capable of positioning themselves thusly without abandoning what made them unique and, yes, fun. But instead of the band that did 'The Shark Fighter!', I've got Weezer...Only Not.


Here is a fan-made video for the show.
And because I think it's cool, here's the Welcome To Eltingville theme I mentioned above....

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