1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 147

Cheer Up!, by Reel Big Fish
Suggested by Daniel Lettin

As I’ve mentioned in past reviews, my favourite band, historically, is Fishbone.

For those who aren’t aware, Fishbone are a rock / ska / punk / funk / soul band out of California. Formed in 1979, which is frankly terrifying, they are still stuck in my throat today. They blend the aforementioned styles with energy, effervescence and elan, by are characterised by their bulging brasses, swaggering vocalist and funky punk aesthetic. And they’re hella fun.

Another of my favourite bands? Madness.

As I’m sure you’re all aware, Madness are a pure ska band from Camden in London, formed in an even more ridiculous 1976. They were massively successful in the early Eighties, and are characterised by a mammoth brass ensemble and a vocal style that’s full of character and class. And again, they’re a riot.

Reel Big Fish are an American ska / punk outfit. Formed in the Nineties, they have bellowing brasses (check), a punky ethos (check) and a strong vocalist leading the troupe (check). And are they fun…? Check check check!

No-brainer for me then. right?

Cheer Up! is the band’s fourth studio album, and it builds upon their previous catalogue of jaunty songs with a lyric that’s low self-esteem. It’s an incongruous pairing, but one that’s played well since their inception. The album fires off with Good Thing, a rollicking rock track with sunny vocals and pleasing brass. The vibe is Green Day at their most melodic, with a sound that’s pop-punk through and through. This is a summer song, on the beach with a can of Stella, sun flaking your shaved side-scalp either side of your peacocking mohawk.

The straight happy-rock vibe continues for a good four or five songs, and while I’m enjoying it, there’s precious little evidence of ska occurring. Have I been mis-sold this band, like illicit PPI? Should I expect countless cold calls from music historians, informing me that I could be liable for compensation for my enforced dalliance with Reel Big Fish?

Happily, the music takes a two-tone-turn with the wonderful Suckers, and it continues for most of the album. Particular ska highlights include my favourite track A Little Doubt Goes a Long Way, and even the more driven Dateless Losers. Reel Big Fish seem to blend styles with their ska in a complementary and intelligent way, reminiscent of a Fishbone that forewent the funk and ploughed on with the punk.

Later, the album takes a few meandering turns, but the band have built up enough goodwill with the earlier songs that slight missteps like Rock n Roll is Bitchin’ and the oddly discordant acapella New York New York are swiftly forgiven. Other covers on Cheer Up! are more successful, especially Boss DJ, although I admit to having never heard the Sublime original.

Cheer Up! is an infectious joyride from beginning to end, and Reel Big Fish are a band that ping my radar. I’ve a few misgivings, such as the overabundance of self-pitying lyrics that are whiny at best and Incel at worst, but I’d be churlish if I didn’t rate this highly. This album gets a strong 8/10. Upon hearing it, I definitely cheered up.

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