What to say about Reel Big Fish… besides being ska music pioneers, these cheeky gentlemen led by the wittiest man alive, Aaron Barrett, continue to remind us that the aging genre is far from dead. The Orange County brass-heavy band bombarded into the mainstream when they broke it big in 1997 with their summer hit “Sell Out”. Since then, it’s been nothing but assenine assertations, underdog anthems and downright DGAF drinking songs from the band we all hate to love.
Relatable to all is Reel Big Fish’s first studio album in six years…
Before RBF, ska was either punk rock-oriented or traversing the traditional reggae route. Some ska bands boasted social commentary, most just wanted to get a skank pit circling. But, Reel Big Fish brought the entire movement to the next level – the level of the everyday average Joe. RBF songs relate to the guy forced to take the bus to work: the one with the glass ceiling job, a dead-end relationship and a boss reaming him up the wrong end of the tail pipe. Reel Big Fish knows the misery and that’s why they’re singing to you, my friend.
Because, let’s face it, life sucks! It’s hard and full of obstacles that relentlessly keep kicking you while you’re down. Relatable to all is Reel Big Fish’s first studio album in six years, Life Sucks… Let’s Dance! The title track introduces us to the ongoing mindset of the band (and, of course, Barrett): “it’s not going to be alright”, it hasn’t been thus far, so let’s drop everything and boogie. With overt political overtones embedded in lyrics like “looks like the bad guys are gonna win” (looking at you POTUS), “Life Sucks… Let’s Dance” pairs a defeatist attitude with an optimist agenda. “Life sucks”, negative premise; “let’s dance”, positive conclusion. Yin and the yang of ska exemplified. If there’s nothing left to do but unite through song and dance, then RBF has officially made ska the lowest common denominator to all humans. We’re “all different notes” of the “same song”, so let’s enjoy it together.
A pretty impressive introduction and track two is even more ruthless. “Pissed Off” is that classic ‘screw you guys, I’m going home’ vibe that Reel Big Fish does oh so well. Someone has crossed Barrett and the band is clapping back. “You got me pissed off” repeats over that signature upbeat RBF timbre, allowing the listener to understand completely the matter at hand. This person sucks. So. Much. There is virtually nothing else to do but be campy about it. What goes around comes around, you “bullshit artist”, and don’t think for a minute that the same rules don’t apply to the skank pit. The pit literally goes in circles. You horrible weasel.
Track three is the lead single off the album which dropped a few weeks back, “You Can’t Have All of Me”. With piercing horns at the beginning, Barrett welcomes the listener into a day in the life. Bills, demands, hand-outs… my head hurts. This track stands as an ode to the working man, everyone who is caught up in today’s society trying to climb the almighty chain of command. The reality is, no matter how hard you work, the mobility is slight – even non-existent! At breakfast, Barrett says he thinks “about the nightmares that [he] didn’t finish” and how “everybody wants a piece” of his personal pie. No satiation in modern-day society. “[I’m] like a skeleton, the vultures picked my bones clean,” sings Barrett. What a graphic, yet appropriate metaphor for an American eagle turned predator; the American Dream is now consuming all of us. But, hey, it’s better than “going without”, right?
The album continues with several tongue-in-cheek love songs like “In Love Again” and “I’d Rather Get it Wrong”, mainly blaming women for falling into this absurd sappy state. How dare you, succubus?! Less extreme are the friendly hook-up tracks for the Tinder crowd like “Bleached Thang, Baby” and “Tongue Tied and Tipsy Too”. The latter is quite entertaining, since we’ve all been that drunken baffoon at the bar (no matter your gender) and still managed to close the deal. Speaking of bars, no RBF album is complete without another beer song. This one literally is titled “Another Beer Song” and revisits the same notions in RBF’s smash hit “Beer” from yesteryear: don’t mind me, I’m just “gonna have myself a beer” and “pass out on the floor”. After all these years, with outlook unchanged, it seems this is Reel Big Fish’s recommended course of relationship therapy. Beer equals better.
It sucked then, it sucks worse now and tomorrow’s guaranteed to be the worst suckage you could imagine.
Along the lines of ‘better’, the whole point of the album is ‘it’s not getting better’. Bummer. “The Good Old Days” spells out that if you told the band in ’95 that those days were the best they’d have, they wouldn’t believe you. Over two decades later, following fame and (assuming at least a little) cash flow, Barrett says “it’s getting harder and harder every day”. It sucked then, it sucks worse now and tomorrow’s guaranteed to be the worst suckage you could imagine. Progressive suckage. What a wonderful world. If that’s all there is, might as well enjoy the view! “G. D. Beautiful Day” reminds listeners that the world still is good albeit every human in it. “All these assholes” might be trying to get you down, but you are, at the end of the day, in control of your own emotions. At least it isn’t raining. Shpadoinkle.
With so much going on in 14 tracks, Reel Big Fish ends with the instrumental, tropical track “Walter’s Highlife”. The album is about coping with real life issues, so – with whammy bars, maracas and a happy horn section – let’s end the entire escapade with some much-earned escapism. The song is like being whisked away to a Cabo resort, implying that everyone deserves a break, even if it’s only a couple days on vacation. Don’t forget to bring your dog! At the tail end of the track, Barrett’s dog Walter goes a bit crazy. Does yours??
Life Sucks… Let’s Dance! is now available on all digital outlets via Rock Ridge Music. Reel Big Fish, after wrapping up the year with a second tour stretch with Ballyhoo!, plans on hitting the road again just after the holidays starting January 11th alongside MEST and Bikini Trill. To get your tickets now or a copy of the hard-hitting new album, visit the links below or www.reel-big-fish.com.
Purchase or stream Life Sucks… Let’s Dance! album:
- Life Sucks… Let’s Dance!
- Pissed Off
- You Can’t Have All of Me
- In Love Again
- Tongue Tied and Tipsy Too
- Bleached Thang, Baby
- Another Beer Song
- Bob Marley’s Toe
- Ska Show
- The Good Old Days
- G. D. Beautiful Day
- I Should Know By Now
- I’d Rather Get it Wrong
- Walter’s Highlife
Cover photo by Jonathon Thorpe
Disclaimer: All views presented in this album review are those of the reviewer and not necessarily those of Top Shelf Music.