Ska isn't dead. Don't listen to the jerks that try to tell you it is.

Reel Big Fish released a new album, Candy Coated Fury, today, and it's one of the better they've released in their lengthy career.

RBF's first album of (mostly) original material since 2007's Monkeys for Nothin' and the Chimps for Free, Candy Coated Fury combines all of the band's best qualities - singer/guitarist Aaron Barrett's signature cynical/angsty lyrics, bouncy  ska-punk guitar riffs and a luscious horn section.

More than anything, the Brass Factor is the album's strongest element. Dan Regan and John Christianson are the stars on nearly every song, providing some of the best ska horns this band has seen in some time. Nearly every song is about women/relationships/"that girl and why she sucks", and so on, themes that have always been the band's forte.

Everyone Else is an Asshole, the record's opening number, sets the mood perfectly, and is led by a killer horn/guitar match-up that flashes back to the 1990s' excellence that was Turn the Radio Off. The next track, Punisher, matches hard guitars with a joyous horn refrain just like on the first few songs of Why Do They Rock So Hard? There's even another great instrumental song, the groove-laden Don't Stop Skankin', and two covers - of the 1980s' gem The Promise and The Wonder Stuff's Don't Let Me Down Gently.

http://youtu.be/nyrY_PnklHE

If you haven't gotten the message yet, Candy Coated Fury is the Reel Big Fish you've always loved, but with the freedom that comes with being full-fledged independent band (having long since left Jive Records).

Give this one a spin if you dig old-school RBF, horns, and cynical skank-pit anthems. And if you don't like those things, re-evaluate your life.

 

Reel Big Fish, the long-running So*Cal ska band, released a Best Of disc entitled A Best Of Us…For The Rest Of Us today. Yes, that’s a Seinfeld reference. And yes, that’s the band’s second ‘hits’ compilation. However, Greatest Hit…and More, released by Jive Records in 2006, was released against the wishes of the RBF dudes, and they didn’t support that collection or make any money from it. Their relationship with Jive was rocky, to say the least, and the band split from the label in 2006 following the release of We’re Not Happy ‘til You’re Not Happy (an album whose cover art coincidentally was a picture of musical instruments on fire, perhaps a “fuck you” from the band to the label?).

Because of all this trouble, RBF had to re-record all the songs on A Best Of Us since Jive owns all the master recordings to every RBF album other than Everything Sucks and the albums released after they split with Jive. The band did this because they conceivably wanted to release a Best Of collection that they could feel proud about, not a label-created cash-in that the band had no say in.

As a result, this collection is a great bunch of Reel Big Fish songs that fans and newbies can appreciate, although the versions are different. I, like many RBF fans, am used to hearing the versions I’ve listened to for fifteen years now, so it’s a bit unsettling at first to hear new recordings of Sell Out and Beer. The horns in particular sound the most different from the classic recordings, comparatively. Still, this whole exercise is rather intriguing.

I imagine it was quite an experience at the studio, re-recording the songs they’ve played in concert for years…especially since the band has underwent countless lineup changes since its formation in 1992. Frontman/guitarist Aaron Barrett has been a constant, of course, as his voice is the most identifiable aspect of RBF, the one that sets them apart from other ska-punk bands of the 1990s and 2000s.

There’s definitely a certain irony to songs like Sell Out now, about signing on the dotted line with the big music label because “they’re gonna give me lots of money”, when in reality RBF had a ton of problems with Jive Records, creatively, promotionally, and financially. I’m sure that irony isn’t lost on the band. I bet this collection wouldn’t exist if not for their desire to stick it to “the man”, in this case big bad Jive Records.

Despite all this controversy and difficulty between the band and their former label, Reel Big Fish has always been a lot of fun. Other ska bands like Less than Jake balance out their music with more punk-inspired tunes every now and then, but RBF sticks more to the ska-rock-pop formula consistently. LTJ is still going strong as well, touring the world playing to hardcore fans just like RBF does. It’s a testament to these bands that they’ve been able to outlive the ska movement and despite the fact that many people said “ska is dead” back in the late 1990s.

Obviously, as an RBF fan who has spent hours and hours listening to them and seeing them in concert, I prefer the older versions of classics like Beer and the A-Ha cover Take On Me, but I appreciate their effort this time around with the re-vamping of these tunes.

The first disc of this collection is chock full of 22 of RBF’s most notable tunes, from those already mentioned to gems like In The Pit, Somebody Hates Me, Trendy, Another F.U. Song, Party Down and New Version Of You. The second disc is the “skacoustic” collection, many of the same songs, but recorded with acoustic guitars. That’s a pretty sweet addition to this collection.

The skacoustic disc also includes SR and 241, two of my favorite Turn The Radio Off tracks that aren’t part of the first disc, unfortunately. These acoustic songs sound like an RBF campfire jam session, complete with horns. It’s not as quiet as most “acoustic” albums are, with regular drums and the horns, but it still sounds a bit toned-down from the usual energetic frenzy RBF brings to their electric songs.

I just found out about this release yesterday, and had to have the Best Buy employee go find it in the back, as they hadn’t put it on the shelves yet. It is odd, though, that this album is only sold in Best Buy stores, considering RBF is all DIY now and that they don’t seem to be fond of major conglomerate organizations, but maybe that only applies to music labels. Still, I think it’s a strange choice to make this album a “Best Buy Exclusive”.

Reel Big Fish have endured a lot in their career; they’ve gone through the ska revival in the mid-to-late 1990s, outlived its death, struggled with major label support (and lack thereof) and remained lively, touring and self-releasing albums all the way up to this collection. They don’t show any signs of tiring anytime soon, and that’s a good thing for those of us who have enjoyed their sense of humor and fun music for years.

I’d say check out A Best Of Us…For The Rest Of Us if you are curious about the re-recordings, if you were a big RBF fan back in the day, if you saw them in Baseketball and wanted to find more, or if you just like supporting fun bands doing things on their own terms. That’s what RBF is doing.

And if you really like it, strap on your Dickies and Vans, head out to the skank pit the next time Reel Big Fish comes to town, and pretend it’s 1996 all over again.