The first I’d heard of this record was over a year ago when it came across the wires that Big D And The Kids Table had launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a new record, and it had been wildly successful. I was pleased to see that they didn’t just take the $38,000+ they made, shit out a crappy album, and run. Oh no. They shat out a double record. Now that’s service.
I like ska-punk, but I haven’t listened to any new ska or ska-punk since Mephiskapheles released “Might-ay White-ay”. Let’s just say I prefer to live in the glory days of my youth. I was curious to see where the state-of-the-art had been pushed in 14 years. Turns out, not that far.
Big D’s first disc of their first studio record of new music since 2011 starts off with promise. “Stepping Out” is a Mustard Plug-y uptempo song with bright horn lines and bouncy guitars. Singer David McWane does his best John Lydon impression on the catchy call-back chorus and it all works. “Shit Tattoos” and “Social Muckary” continue the uptempo ska-punk feel while McWade’s caterwauling keeps the energy up. I can see why they have their reputation of a fiercely energetic live band. “Pinball” drops the tempo to a less frenetic pace, the guitars do an excellent Cake impression, as does the horn line. As do the lyrics. Ah ha. I can see why I like it so much. It’s comfortingly familiar.
“The Noise” pays homage to Op Ivy’s “Sound System”…ok maybe a little more than just an homage, but I can forgive the familiarity because it has most of the energy and catchiness of the original. Then the opening bars of “Don’t Compare Me To You” start up, and I recognize this as a very good Toasters impression. A realization dawns on me. Perhaps it’s because ska is a narrow and stale genre (so are most genres, to be fair), but I have heard all these songs before. “Dirty Daniel” (The Toasters), “Pitch and Sway” (Voodoo Glow Skulls), “Line Selector” (Mighty Mighty Bosstones), “No Moaning at the Bar” (Pietasters). But then again, did I expect boundaries to be pushed? On a ska punk record? No, I guess not. I expected a ska punk record and my expectations were completely satisfied. I give Stomp a solid 3.5 stars.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
For those that want something else, there’s a WHOLE OTHER record here. For those not in the know (and I wasn’t, until I started researching this review), “Stroll” is a style of music invented by Big D that is “a mix of double-Dutch, ska, reggae, and soul.” It was first introduced on 2009’s Fluent in Stroll and was met with, ahem, divided reactions from fans.
“Knife” begins the side with a surf guitar line that turns into a Frankenchrist era Dead Kennedys guitar/bass line that quickly turns into a song that reminds me of something that should have been on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Despite being a chorus or so too long, it is quite catchy, and very interesting. On my first listen-through I was very excited to hear what the rest of the record would be, because surely they wouldn’t put the best song first? Right? Unfortunately, that’s as exciting as it gets for the rest of Stroll. It’s not that I dislike what they’re going for. I like that they are pushing boundaries and trying to do something new and different. More power to them. Where this record falls short isn’t for want of vision, but for want of effective execution.
McWade’s manic and sometimes atonal vocal delivery serves their ska-punk style perfectly, but it is exactly NOT what works on a pop song. Even one-time Toaster Coolie Ranx and the jammingest groove on the record can’t save “Put it in a Song” from the tuneless lead vocal. The want of a pop singer is highlighted on “What I Got” when the female singer (can’t find her name ANYWHERE on the internets) gets her chance at the lead vocal and she does a solid job hitting her marks. This number almost made me wish it was 1999 again so I could pretend it was 1940 again so I could dress in wingtip shoes and pretend to know how to dance. Not really, but it is another highlight of the side.
“Spit That Champagne Out” could have easily come off of a Gwen Stefani solo record, and that’s not a bad thing at all. All they need is a Gwen Stefani.
“Just An Idea” offers a clue perhaps to the strong pop influence on Stroll: “I speak with all the men in music and try my best just to impress them / But if your songs don’t work in commercials they don’t want the album”. No, perhaps not, but I don’t think it’s the songs that wouldn’t work in commercials. The best songs on this record would be right at home in a commercial, provided they were massaged with $500,000 worth of pop production and a very talented pop vocalist. There’s a solid base here, but without the coats and coats of gloss that really make a modern pop record shine, this one falls flat.
I can see why Big D and the Kids Table, flush with their Kickstarter bankroll, and mindful of the controversy surrounding Fluent in Stroll, would choose to make two radically different records seeking to make everyone happy. However, when you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. Stomp / Stroll is a case in point. If Big D and the Kids Table had culled the best twelve songs from both discs onto a single record and focused their efforts on arranging and producing them, it could have been very good. Instead, the gems are buried too in the deep rough to really shine. Big D is onto something good, but they’re not quite there yet. I look forward to seeing where they end up with their next record.