When you see the name Reel Big Fish, you’re going to think of high quality, mad and eventful gigs full of bright colours punctuated with the horns of ska. Either that, or you going to be confused. What is this fish, and indeed how big is it? For just over twenty years, Reel Big Fish have been soldiering on. Candy Coated Fury is their seventh studio album, and with it comes finally an album from the band with a settled line-up, and most importantly finally an album of all new recordings.
Musically, the band is at a technical strength that anyone would expect from seeing them live, which already puts the album up quite a few notches from the previous few efforts. This is fast and punchy ska, heavy on the horns and light on variation. In a recent interview lead singer and guitarist Aaron Barrett stated that the band were thinking about the “danceability” of their songs, how the crowd would move to them, and it sure does show. Reel Big Fish are for the first time embracing the punk in their ska-punk label. This does have its drawbacks however, as despite the album sounding like it would be a cracking set list for a gig it’s almost a bit too much when put through some headphones. It’s over-indulgent. Some songs outstay their welcome, with multiple breakdowns that you just know are waiting to be punctuated with some witty banter or crowd participation. Sure if you’re in the mood you’ll be happily skanking your way down the street, but if you’re looking for something to contemplate this isn’t the place.
That being said, that crowd is hardly Reel Big Fish’s demographic. Lyrically, the band is back to a mix of immaturity and cynicism that is just plain impressive. Expect swearing a plenty, with double entendres and insults making up the majority of the album’s word count. Again, it can be a bit too much at times, seeming to miss the wit of the earlier songs that the band are trying to ape. Some songs, such as the brilliant “I Dare You To Break My Heart” and “Your Girlfriend Sucks” hit the note right, whilst others such as album opener “Everyone Else Is An Asshole” falls flat. Despite this, there a few chuckles found in the sheer audacity of the lyrics silliness. And once coupled with sheer pace of the music, it’s hard not to just get caught up in the fun of it all.
Adding to this feeling are the multiple guest vocals from younger ska bands, a nice figurative tipping of the hat from the band that probably helped inspire most of them, and most definitely have helped exposure in the UK with their support at gigs. The departure of backup singer Scott Klopfenstein is something clearly noticeable once listening to the album, the fantastic harmonising between him and Barrett no more. Newcomer Matt Appleby does an exemplary task in trying to fill the gap however, and the addition of a saxophone to the line-up sure helps.
The fact that this album contains some of the best music Reel Big Fish have written in years makes the problems that stand out within it all the more. There are dodgy production choices made all over the album, from strange DJ style openers that don’t match songs, to loop that turns “Don’t Stop Skanking” from a loving tribute to plain annoying. Overall however, this an album full of songs that are begging to be played live, adding to Reel Big Fish’s already strong set list. There are some genuinely great additions to the bands arsenal, such as the closing cover of “The Promise” by When In Rome, and the sheer speed of and gall of “Punisher”. If you’ve been waiting for a high concentration of ska, this should do the trick perfectly. If not, it may be better to wait for the inevitable live album. For the many loyal fans of this band however, it’ll just be nice to see them still going strong and indeed with a renewed vigour. Twenty more years may not be out of the question.
By David Lamb