Friday, February 29, 2008

Skaville UK: "1973"

Moon Ska World (

Despite the title track singer's nostalgia for the sounds of his youth—as a Brit of a certain age and class (“I wish it was 1973/I Roy, U Roy, Byron Lee, Al Capone, and Lee Perry on the stereo”)—the music found on this impressive disk is firmly rooted in late 70s, 2-Tone-era ska. And what else would you expect from these gifted musicians—most of whom were the musical muscle behind Bad Manners in the 80s (original Bad Manners guitarist and keyboardist Louis Alphonso and Martin Stewart, who co-wrote such hits as "Lip Up Fatty," "Special Brew," "Lorraine," and "Walking in the Sunshine") and early 90s (Nicky Welsh, composer of “Skinhead Love Affair,” “Since You’ve Gone Away,” and “Skaville UK,” plus he won a Grammy for his work on Lee Scratch Perry’s Jamaican ET record—who knew—and co-wrote many of the songs on the Selecter's quite good Cruel Britannia album)? As one might suspect, 1973 is Top of the Pops ska: catchy songs and spot-on professional performances, all produced with a high-gloss sheen. There is a lot to like here.

Stand-out tracks include “Outta My Head,” with (ex-Belle Stars) Jennie Matthais’ wonderfully husky guest vocals; the surf-ska instrumental “Third Floor Room Six”; the title track; the horn-driven “Devils Daughter”; and the dubby “Martin’s Magic Box." Skaville UK also turn in some terrific covers. Their version of Prince Buster’s “Hard Man Fe Dead” is one of the best I’ve ever heard—smoothing out the original’s choppy edges and injecting some Munsters-y surf-rock and ghoulish humor. Two Bad Manners (!) songs are reprised on 1973. “Memory Train,” one of my favorite cuts from Return of the Ugly (Bad Manners’ 1989 triumphant return to form, just in time for the kick-off of the third wave of ska), is less Buffalo Ska and more Nite Klub sofisticated here—and, dare I say, is better than the original (sorry, Fatty!). “Suicide” from Loonee Tunes is also given a fresh revival here (though don’t do it, kids!).

Sad to say that Rhoda Dakar (ex-Bodysnatchers)—who sounds better than ever—is on two of the lyrically dodgier tracks, “Brixton Cat” (chorus: “I’m a Brixton Cat/How about that?/How about that/I’m a Brixton Cat”) and “0900-LUV,” which is about—sigh—phone sex (and she co-wrote it!). (Note to self—must check out Dakar’s new album, Cleaning in Another Woman’s Kitchen, and hope that she treats herself better.)

While many of the songs on 1973 concern the past and some sort of loss—of love or youth (see “So Long Ago,” “When We Were Young,” “Memory Train,” and “1973”)—and are tinged with regret, you don’t have to be middle-aged to relate. If the lyrics don’t move you, the music certainly will. 1973 is a place you’ll wanna go. (B+/A-)

If you like 1973, do yourself a favor and check out:

Busters’ All Stars’ Skinhead Luv Affair
Bad Manners’ Return of the Ugly and Fat Sounds
King Hammond’s Blow Your Mind
The Selecter's Cruel Britannia