In 1998, amidst the ska-punk explosion that pervaded the second half of that decade, Tomas Kalnoky’s band Catch-22 released their debut album. And then Kalnoky, who had written the whole of that album, chose to leave the band. And when Victory records decided in 2004 that they want to re-release that debut album, Kalnoky refused, instead opting to re-record the album with his new band, Streetlight Manifesto.

Thus what I believe could possibly be the greatest ska-punk recording of all time was created.

There are those who are partial to Less Than Jake’s Hello Rockview (1998) or Reel Big Fish’s Turn The Radio Off (1996), and even some who claim the re-recording is blasphemy prefer the Catch-22 original. But what the the band did with this album exceeds even the highest expectations of the genre, creating an album that stands to be on any end-of-decade list.

The album kicks off with a blast- “Dear Sergio” pummels the listener with 250-BPM guitar and loud, brassy, horn hits, and off we go – into a 45-minute burst of angst, energy, and power that hasn’t been seen before or since. The gang vocals on the opening track draw the listener in, and inspire you to get up and dance, as any good ska-punk album should. Without missing a beat, the distorted, Chuck Berry-aping intro of “Sick and Sad” comes in, and we’re back into the fold, skanking along- the incredibly proficient (and downright loud) horns, Kalnoky’s frantic vocals, (spitting more words per minute than the any Lil Wayne song) and Chris Thatcher’s unforgettable drumming and distinctive snare sound.

The title track features a theme Kalnoky mentions more than 50 Cent: bulletproof vests. Where, in a song that’s only 3 minutes and is fast enough to make you want to stop and take a breather, do most bands find the time to talk about rising up against your foes and still make it sound like a party? Streetlight Manifesto show, every single time they’re given a soapbox, that they aren’t like most bands. And they don’t want to be.

And that’s what this album is- something different, while still feeling like something familiar. Only Kalnoky can rhyme “bucket full of phlegm” with “I don’t need a music scene to tell me who I am.” and not make you feel like he had some explaining to do. One of the highest points of the album, “Walking Away” showcases in its first 45 seconds Chris Paszik’s immense bass skills, James Egan’s magnificent muted trumpet solo, and still manages to speed things up for the rest of the song – which features not only lyrical imagery of lost love, but a military band breakdown, and, later still, one of the best trumpet/trombone duels in non-jazz music. Not only does Kalnoky create the image of a backyard summer party with his lyrics, but the other musicians in his band make you feel like you’re there with their music.

They demonstrate their diversity on songs like “Giving Up, Giving In” – a no-holds-barred punk jam that features no horns at all, and its first half clocking in at over 300 beats per minute, makes you want to hold on for dear life. Sometimes the band likes to take a break in mid-song for a tender acoustic guitar moment, and then follow it with loud, frantic horns and drum solos as they do in “On & On & On.” The album’s sole instrumental track, “Riding The Fourth Wave” deserves to be in a class of its own in rock music – here all the musicians display their abilities as musicians deserve to stand among the great jazz players out there. That instrumental speaks for itself – Frantic, powerful, and featuring some of the best horn solos in all of rock music, the song grabs you by the collar and refuses to let go. If you can listen to “Riding The Fourth Wave” and not be impressed by Dan Ross and Mike Soprano’s abilities and how well they play off each other, you obviously need to take a music appreciation class.

The album continues this way, with songs juxtaposing the improvisational nature and impressive musicianship of jazz music with the fury and angst of punk music with acoustic, sensitive moments. As far as compares to the Catch-22 version, there are added verses, added solos, and a quite noticeable increase in sonic quality. The end of its closer, “1234, 1234” features an interview discussing why the album was re-recorded and released over a fun jam between the musicians. All in all, this music speaks for itself. This is the way these songs were meant to be heard, and this is perfection in ska-punk. Every song here is perfect, and there’s nothing like any of them. Maybe you won’t love this record. As they state, they’re going to keep doing what they are doing whether or not a single record is sold. Regardless, this is a modern classic and the defining album of ska-punk. You’re hearing the kind of magic that came together perfectly once and won’t probably happen for years and years to come.

To those who don’t hear it, to quote the last words of the album, “As my good friend Roley says, you are indeed a cassette, and unfortunately just don’t get it. Peace out bitches.”

Overall score: Classic

-Evan

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