The Return of the Pannonians, by Pannonia Allstar Ska Orchestra
Suggested by Stuart Taylor
I’m a fan of Ska.
As a genre, it has many distinct forms, and couples with other genres to create a fine fusion of sounds. I came into this project with a love and appreciation for the classic two-tone of Madness and Bad Manners, and an unconditional adoration of the third-wave ska rock sound of Fishbone. And through this project I’ve encountered many more ska-infused songsmiths, such as Tokyo Ska Paradise, Streetlight Manifesto, Reel Big Fish and more. It’s fair to say that, as far as Ska goes, my cup runneth over.
I’m not a fan of Reggae.
I find it a tricky genre, laid-back, uninteresting and repetitive. It’s lyrically mired in submissive religious tropes, a clarion call to a subset of people in which I definitely do not reside. It sounds dated, and weary, and downtrodden, and dull. I find the deification of Bob Marley completely baffling, and would be perfectly content if I never heard another Bongo as long as I live.
I feel that these two viewpoints are counter-intuitive. Reggae and Ska are culturally and evolutionally entwined, both influenced by American jazz and blues, and both developing in parallel with Jamaican Ska and other subgenres. There’s are clear similarities between the two sounds, yet one warms my heart and the other leaves me cold.
Pannonia Allstar Ska Orchestra fuse the two styles in fine form, looking to bring out the strengths of both. Unfortunately, I feel it slightly underwhelms in either camp.
Things start well. We have a Madness-style intro in The Return, straight into the summery jollity of Joseph. With its pure Reggae style lyric and its laconic horns, it sets the standard strongly. It’s not as abrasive or as energetic as I’d like, but it’s a mellifluous and accomplished sound to kick us off. Wicked Away continues in a similar vein, while Sahara adds a little intrigue with a more moody and brazen horn. The most intriguing track on the album the standout Summertime, a Reggae arrangement of Gershwin’s classic.
The album continues apace, offering up a slew of perfectly serviceable fusions of Ska and Reggae delivered with skill. But if I’m honest, it’s not particularly moving, or enthusing, or inspiring. I like my Ska to whip me up, to get me stomping my feet, and this just doesn’t deliver that. Conversely, the laid back USP of Reggae is tempered somewhat, meaning you can’t fully relax into its hypnotic refrain. It’s as if the fiery Ska is tempered by the ice cool Reggae, but, like Derek Smalls between the fire and ice of David St Hubbins and Nigel Tufnell, The Return of the Pannonians feels like lukewarm water.
If I want Ska, I won’t come here. If I want Reggae? Well, I’d likely visit the doctor to get my ears checked instead. Fans of both genres are likely to get more from this than I. Nevertheless, Tier Two Ska is still Ska, and so I give The Return of the Pannonians a solid 6/10 for effort.