The Mighty Mighty Bosstones Stay True to Themselves on 'When God Was Great'
Published May 06, 2021Ska, if you haven't heard, is having a moment.
After two decades as the butt of many, many jokes, the genre unexpectedly found itself on a cultural ascendency in 2020. Much of the newfound interest in skanking can be chalked up to a new generation of artists reinvigorating the genre (Kill Lincoln, the Interrupters, We Are the Union, JER and their cover work as Skatune Network), not to mention the bizarre confluence of a population eager for music that can both denounce racism and start a much-needed party.
As if on cue, in January, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones dropped "The Final Parade," a ska posse cut featuring a who's who of the genre's past, present and future: Amy Interrupter, Tim Timebomb, and members of the Specials, Fishbone, Less than Jake, the Aquabats! and even Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, to name but a few, all appear on the eight-minute track that closes the Bosstones' 11th studio album.
Though their spotlight has dimmed since the great heights of the '90s ska explosion, the song, essentially a call to arms for lifers, proves the band retain a strong role as convenors in the ska continuum. Ironically, it's also the greatest show of ambition on a record that otherwise stays true to its pledge. When God Was Great is exactly what one would expect any Mighty Mighty Bosstones record to sound like: driving, determined, occasionally clumsy, but just as often insightful and introspective — though never to the point where it would get in the way of a good time. Honestly, this thing could have come out 10, 20, or even 25 years ago (to be clear: this is a compliment).
If there's a throughline to the record, it's the resolve to stay true to yourself and the people you love. That's been a tried-and-true theme for the past couple of decades, as the Bosstones have moved from kings of the scene to the elder statesmen of third wave ska. In that same period, the band's musical influences have deepened. "Certain Things" boasts lap steel guitar, while "The Killing of Georgie (Part III)," about George Floyd, references a Rod Stewart song. They even throw in a Creedence Clearwater Revival cover. Despite the band's deep roots in Boston's '80s hardcore scene, it turns out these guys like some classic rock as much as the rest of us.
At just under an hour, the record nevertheless feels a tad long — a dull stretch towards the back third in particular drags down the album's momentum. The voice of lead singer Dicky Barrett, now in his mid-fifties, lacks the sheer power of the band's '90s heyday. But he's found new, more soulful contours. And while the record lacks the harder edge of their earliest LPs, the band still largely sound excited to be playing together over three decades in. To put that in classic rock terms, at similar points in their careers, the Rolling Stones were sampling Biz Markie and David Bowie was making jungle tracks.
The number of ska bands still going strong from that late-'90s boom period is impressive, if not surprising. Though the scene's presence on the soundtrack of teen comedies was fleeting, it's been a constant, if under-the-radar, subsection of punk for decades. Every once in a while, the music cognoscenti decides to take an interest only to find the Mighty Mighty Bosstones still skanking along. (Hellcat)