The summer was 1997. I was 17 and worked at Target as cashier. It was the summer of ska. A magical summer where I fell in love with this song called “Sell Out” by this band I’d never heard of called Reel Big Fish. I went to the music section and picked up Turn The Radio Off, and I’ve been hooked since. I mean, my email address is “sell out tonight” of Pete’s sake. A lot has changed since then. I grew up, went to college and got a real job, but like my email address, my love of this band has stayed constant. I have waited five long years for a new record with all originals. I was very excited to listen. So, into the review.
The first track, “Everyone Is An Asshole” is quintessential RBF. Tight horns, agressive drums, solid guitar power chords, with snarky and angry lyrics. For the uninitiated, it may sound like guitarist/vocalist Aaron Barrett is just whining. That is far from the case. We all know the assholes he’s talking about. He just says what we are all thinking. No matter how hard you try, a lot of people really are assholes.
The next few tracks keep pace with the opening track. I was really happy to hear the addition of Matt Appleton on saxophone, since they haven’t had one since Turn The Radio Off. The bari sax really adds depth to their sound, especially on “Don’t Let Me Down Gently” and “Don’t Stop Skankin’.” Dan Regan on trombone is a rock. I love his solo on “Famous Last Words.” It is groovy, laid back, but with a touch of grit. The most impressive, perhaps, is Johnny Christmas’ playing. I’ll admit, I wasn’t thrilled with the horse whinny soloing when he joined the band for We’re Not Happy Till You’re Not Happy. His sound has matured. His solos are well constructed and great to listen to.
Candy Coated Fury also showcases just how versatile the band can be. “Hiding In My Headphones” is simplistic and laid back. Music you just want to bob your head to. I think I heard ex-Pilfers/Toasters vocalist Coolie Ranks in there, too. On the other hand, “Don’t Stop Skankin'” makes you want to get out of your seat and skank. A clever mix of Ritchie Valens’ “Oh Donna” and The Specials’ “A Message To You Rudy” at the end is a beautiful touch. “P.S I Hate You” is a bit more aggressive. You may want to, but no moshing, please. There had to be one cover on the album, but it is one of my all-time favorite 80s songs, When In Rome’s “The Promise.” The first listen through, I wasn’t impressed, but I found my self rewinding it to catch everything. I actually really dig this cover. It shows RBF’s softer side. The only thing I could say is the horns are a little too staccato at parts. I never thought I’d say I want a bit more fluidity out of a Reel Big Fish horn line.
The one thing I do miss is the unmistakable harmonies of Scott Klopfenstein. Matt Appleton does a great job, but when you grow accustomed to hearing the harmonies piercing through the sound like only Scott could, you expect it. It felt like something was missing. But that is from a fan that has every album this band’s put out. Except that Greatest Hits one that Jive put out.
Overall, if you are a Reel Big Fish fan, you will not be disappointed by this album. It goes beyond that though. This record is 20 years of a band refining it’s sound. An evolution from an unrefined, punky, almost too loose style to tight, mature, and the definition of what a signature sound is. Sort of like watching your kids grow up. My recommendation is pick this one up. Reel Big Fish is proof that ska isn’t dead, and they continue to be an influence after 20 years. A solid album.