Best known for ushering in the third wave of ska in the mid-90’s Reel Big Fish are back with their ninth full length studio album Life Sucks…Lets Dance!, their first since 2012’s aptly named Candy Coated Fury.
Reel Big Fish make their living taking serious lyrical content and covering it in a sugary-sweet wrapper and delivering it with upstroke guitars, bouncy brass work, and wonderful vocal harmonies. They have perfected the craft of making people dance to songs about depression, self-doubt, failed relationships, and the grind of everyday suckitude. Life Sucks…Lets Dance! continues this premise with fourteen ways to dance away life’s grind.
The album opens with the titular “Life Sucks…Let’s Dance” and it’s clear that this album is meant to be a distraction from reality. ‘They’re saying things are worse than they’ve ever been, looks like the bad guys are going to win, and nobody here is gettin’ out alive….maybe if we have some fun we won’t feel so bad’ Aaron sings over a happy sounding trumpet line. This dichotomy is also present in “You Can’t Have All of Me” where he laments about all the things in life that are vying for his time and how he does not have enough time for himself, presented alongside a sublime trombone solo.
There are several songs that have the classic Reel Big Fish vibe. There is the trumpet fanfare fueled and angry “Pissed Off”, the 80’s rock “Bleached Thang, Baby” that sounds like a song they forgot to put on Why Do They Rock So Hard?, and “Another Beer Song” which copies the themes from Turn the Radio Off’s “Beer” but with an opening chorus of ‘Whoas’ that sound lifted from the Misfits “American Psycho”.
Where Life Sucks…Let’s Dance! really seems to shine is in the second half. “Ska Show” and “The Good Old Days” are two covers from Forces of Evil which featured several members of the current Reel Big Fish lineup. These two put the ska in ska-punk and are highly danceable tunes. This is followed by “G.D. Beautiful Day” which may be my favorite track on the album, is a bright shiny happy middle finger to all ‘these assholes trying to ruin my life’. It’s an optimistic song that is almost out of place on a Reel Big Fish album. The album ends with “I’d Rather Get It Wrong” and the instrumental “Walter’s Highlife”. The first a toe tapping ska tune about being in love, even if it is not a perfect love. The latter being exactly the type of instrumental you would expect from someone wearing Hawaiian shirts all the time. It’s got infectiously sweet guitar work, bright beautiful horns, and a Caribbean samba vibe.
The one miss on this album is “Bob Marley’s Toe” which, when based on instrumentation alone, is an absolute banger of a reggae tune. But upon further review of lyrical content, it seems out of place. RBF have never shied away from joke songs but this one falls flat and the “I wish this song was longer/No you don’t” breaks the fourth wall a little too accurately.
Life Sucks…Let’s Dance! is not breaking new ground for Reel Big Fish, however it delivers one of their catchiest albums and some songs find them at the best they have ever been. It’s a very solid 4 out of 5 checkered pork pie hats.