Wednesday, May 9, 2012

36 Songs, 36 Days (2012 Edition), Day Thirteen: Nothin' by Reel Big Fish

You see that object out of the corner of your eye?  It's your lack
of record sales catching up with you....
Wow...I guess we're on a ska kick for this cycle.

And here is one of the acts that seemed to break into the mainstream during that last Third Wave revival. Hailing from Huntington Beach, California, this combo made its way onto radio airwaves with a single from its fifth album, Turn The Radio Off, 'Sell Out'....and then promptly sank from view, becoming a one-hit wonder in most people's eyes. Of course, as with anything relatively geeky and faddish, Reel Big Fish gained something of a cult following and has managed to survive on increasingly smaller record labels--although through this plummet down the charts, they've ended up producing an impressive thirteen albums over the last twenty years.

This song is from the thirteenth of those albums, A Best of Us For The Rest Of Us, which has a particularly peculiar pedigree. A greatest hits compilation, A Best of Us.... was originally available only through Best Buy stores in 2010. However, in 2011 it was re-released to other outlets as a three-disc set that contained not only the original greatest hits compilation but a disc of the band's favorite cover performances and, ummmm, Skacoustic. And this is the 'skacoustic' version of 'Nothin', from Turn The Radio Off. The song itself is a pretty simple affair, a sort of surrender song that sees the singer giving up after what is presumably another bad break-up--he tried so hard to make this work, and he comes up with nothing, see? Not a very deep little number...but the way it's presented here, however...

I really don't know what to make of this, and the other songs off of the Skacoustic album. More than almost any other subgenre of pop or rock music, ska more about the presentation of the song than it is about the song itself. The strong beat, the rhythm and the brass section is vital to this particular genre of music. After all, this is reggae by way of Big Band with the relevance removed...even the darkest ska songs have a strange sort of shiny wrapping surrounding them, giving them a gaiety no matter what their intentions. Stripping out the horns and the drums makes 'Nothin'...sound like any other song. And evaluated as if it was 'any other song,' it's slight and shallow. Without the ska arrangements, it actually comes off as something some amateur high school student would write in his garage deluding himself into thinking he was like, you know, deep, man.

I know on paper the idea of 'skacoustic' versions might have sounded intriguing...but ultimately they're not.

Supposedly, Reel Big Fish do have a new album of original songs forthcoming this summer. I applaud them for thinking outside the box a little--but I hope they got this idea out of their system, because abandoning traditional ska instrumentation while playing ska songs just doesn't make any sense.

But don't take my word for it...check the damn thing out yourself...

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