The Mighty Mighty BossToneS – When God Was Great (Hellcat)
Out 7th May
Boston’s perennial kings of ska-punk The Mighty Mighty BossToneS return with a new album on Hellcat.
Ska-punk. The late 80s collision of ska with punk and it’s fallout (a whole scene of “ska-core”) is something viewed by some as worthy only of sneered contempt. While there are many who absolutely love(d) it, I’ve heard plenty of those who are dismiss it as worthless give a caveat….”except Operation Ivy and the Bosstones”.
Whereas arguably plenty of ska-punk was generic, The Mighty Mighty BossToneS managed to endear themselves to even naysayers by being recognisably individual, doing their own thing. Not only could they play punk infused ska fast, they had a flourish of metallic hardcore guitar, a horns section that could really play and the gruff roaring vocals of Dicky Barrett. They won a fair few people over with their debut Devil’s Night Out in 1989 and through the 90s rose in popularity becoming known beyond the punk scene. Over time they lost a little of their harder edge but never lost their own identity. In this respect, and with their knack for writing pop tunes, they remind me a little of Madness.
On this latest album, The Mighty Mighty BossToneS offer up 13 tracks starting with an upbeat number, Decide, playing to their strength. Rooted in high octane ska, it has clean guitar lines, bouncy bass and drums…and them horns. The chorus sees a slow in pace before picking up again. Following number Move has the bouncy keyboard driven reggae sound and it reminds me that Tim Armstrong, who produced similar sounds with Jimmy Cliff (and his own Tim Timebomb material), is in the producer’s chair. He also provides guest guitar and vocals among a cast of many.
I Don’t Believe In Anything is pretty much typical of what the BossToneS are good at. It starts as pure pop, borrowing the loping angular sound of the likes of XTC and Elvis Costello before letting rip with a raucous chorus that is fairly wordy yet has a sing along quality all the same. The brass section provides emphasis which is something of a BossToneS characteristic. By the middle eight it’s time to hit the skank button before returning for a meaty finish.
Certain Things is a melancholy number, piano laden with country pedal steel guitar and a horn melody that sounds like a TV sitcom theme. It sits with the often cartoonish image of the band.
Bruised has the full on Bad Manners skank. It’s more of the Bosstones on home turf. Its rumbunctious, gang out on the piss, feel seems to be an image so many bands from across the pond are keen to project: “We might be bruised but we’re not broken. We might be down but we’re not out”
Lonely Boy is a laid back tuneful sunshine reggae number. With it’s mention of the “Old Colony Railway” you’d be forgiven for thinking that the journey “Down to Kingston” was on the island of Jamaica, but the Plymouth Kingston line is on the MBTA, in their native Massaschusetts.
When they have something to say the social commentary of the Might Mighty BossToneS is poetic rather than polemic yet not hidden so deep you miss it. For instance The Killing of Georgie (Part III). Wondering what the first two parts were, the internet told me Rod Stewart did a song The Killing of Georgie (Pt I and II). They subvert “Georgie please stay. You take our breath away” on Stewart’s song to “Georgie please stay. They took your breath away” and reflect the impact of the killing of George Floyd on the US. Rocky guitar and big horns open up this one. As the song progresses, with the piano and backing singers it takes on the feel of New York Dolls or Springsteen, were it not for Dicky Barrett’s growl.
You Had To Be There is another slice of well crafted poppy ska-punk with singalong parts. Skank away to the max, lead guitars, neat horns, tempo changes, bouncy keyboard. You get the drift.
The title tune When God Was Great is a more downbeat number, more mellow, perhaps reflecting the age of the band. A whistful nostaligic look back at their childhood. Perhaps still in nostalgia mode, What It Takes sounds like the sort of thing you’d expect from Mick Jones. A tune with a whining guitar that nods to All The Young Dudes and Jones’ vocal performance in B.A.D. Of all the songs on the album it is the one that sounds least obvously BossToneS to me.
The Truth Hurts and It Went Well are both easy listening veering towards rocksteady end of ska. Upbeat and sunny with laidback vocals giving the song a lazy feel.
I Don’t Want To Be You has guitar skanking away under the vocals on the intro builds slowly with more instruments joining the fray. It’s another fairly poppy feelgood song, even though the narrative is sending someone to hell!
The Final Parade finishes off the album with something caught between a jumping skatastic moonstomping and a cor blimey knees-up with Chas’n’Dave style “Joanna” and an end of pier bassline. Featuring guest vocals from Aimee Interrupter, Tim Timebomb, Angelo Moore and original Trojan artist Stranger Cole and about 30 other ska, reggae and punk musicians, it’s very much a feelgood fairground ride affair that manages to last 8 minutes without sounding like it missed its stop. Its a song about unity, punk rock, reggae and rebels. With its cast of many, ska is the right vehicle for these sort of hijinks. I can see this being a love or hate song.
With the exception of What It Takes with it’s nod to Mott The Hoople and The Final Parade which sounds like any number of ska revivalist novelty numbers, the album basically takes you on a tour of the BossToneS wide range of styles. Who else would it sound like?
Cartoon art of a car crash adorns the front and of the band shipwrecked on the adorns the rear of the CD sleeve. Nothing to write home about but the lyric sheet all mocked up in the style of 60s newspaper adverts is a good look.
Long term fans of The Mighty Mighty BossToneS will be satisfied with this record as will fans of ska in general. And if you don’t like ska-punk, no-one’s forcing you to listen to it so stop whining. Don’t be surprised to hear this floating over the fence from your neighbour’s barbecue this summer.
Order links: https://bosstones.ffm.to/whengodwasgreat
Official Site: https://www.facebook.com/themightymightybosstones