Okay, look: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones need no introduction, but here's one anyway. These suit-clad gentlemen may be Boston’s most important punk export. For over 30 years, they've been active in the city’s hardcore scene and introduced masses of American kids to the sounds and messages of real ska music. They never fell into the suburban skate punk trappings that followed them, but relied on the musical traditions they grew up with (heavy metal, first/second wave ska, and hardcore punk). Of course, the pop punk boom did recontextualize ska for people, and its message was soon lost. The genre became widely known for its good time vibes and not its roots in anti-racism and working class ethos. Unfortunately, that made the whole aesthetic of bands like the Bosstones seem silly.
Yet in 2021, as the world is forced to come to terms with the continued damage and literal murder by white supremacists and the system they created, anti-bigotry messages in art are necessary. On When God Was Great, the Bosstones are anything but fence-sitters, taking on racist power systems, pandemic-deniers, and the Christian Right. They have a message, and it is loud and clear: fuck the racism, injustice, and ignorance that is so apparent in the United States right now.
This album may be the band’s most ska-forward release in a minute - it has more in common with Let’s Face It than their last several records. However, it’s not out of place in their collection. If you like what they’ve done before, then you’ll like this.
When God Was Great was written during the Pandemic year (see: “M O V E”) and was very influenced by loss and the political and social climate in the United States. Frankly, it seems to be somewhat of an atheist response to the Christian Right’s political hold (see “I Don’t Believe in Anything” and “I Don’t Want To Be You”). Even as a Christian myself, I can appreciate that. Furthermore, Dicky Barrett utilizes his trademark story-telling skills throughout, especially on songs like “Lonely Boy,” which is about a lonely kid going “down to Kingston when the weekend began.” Despite this being a pretty typical Bosstones record, there is musical experimentation throughout (listen to “Certain Things” or “What It Takes”). Plus, there’s just something about angsty vocals and political topics over fairly relaxed music that feels like a mature approach to acknowledging the world’s difficulties.
To be honest, the hype around When God Was Great seems to come primarily from its marketing, not its sounds. This record has been presented as a sort of comeback to the ska community. That makes sense: it’s on Hellcat, produced by Tim Armstrong, and the first single (and last song on the album) “The Final Parade” is a 10-minute song featuring almost anyone you can think of from the third wave ska scene. This includes Angelo Moore (Fishbone), Laila Khan (Sonic Boom Six), Karina Denike (Dancehall Crashers), that guy from the Aquabats, and for what it’s worth, Aimee Interrupter (an older musician in a newer band). Oh, not to mention Dave McWane (Big D & The Kids Table) shouting “hey!” every five seconds. Yeah, all of that is very sick. But the hype is ultimately dictated by circumstance rather than the quality of the songs.
Of course, the other thing to consider when talking about the hype is the record’s timeliness. 2021 is the perfect time for a political ska record. If you want to get back to the roots of Two Tone and its efforts to unify and dance in the face of racism, then the Bosstones are here to help you. They’ve put out several releases in the past few years that didn’t come across to me as anything particularly special. Maybe it just wasn’t in the cultural zeitgeist for them to be received that way, though. Plus, as much as I’ve avoided writing about it thus far, there’s a ska revival happening. On one hand, there are newer bands making waves a la Bad Time Records, Skatune Network, and Jeff Rosenstock. But on the other side of it, there’s the Back To The Beach Fest crew, or the old guard of ska punk, who is seemingly more united than ever before. Let’s be honest, at one point it was embarrassing to be in a ska band. Now, public perception has turned, and some great bands are certainly getting their due.
That said, When God Is Great is simply too long. Yes, I know it’s on Hellcat Records and 15 tracks is actually kind of short considering. But as opposed to Society’s Parasites or Time Again, the Bosstones write long songs. Those Rancid-wannabe bands write 1-2 minute songs with lots of “woahs.” The Mighty Mighty Bosstones write introspective sing-alongs that are 3-5 minutes long (or now, even 10 minutes). It’s a good album to travel with, but maybe not one you’ll just sit down and listen to if your body is 85% sugar like mine.
That said, I’m going to give Boston’s finest a 7.5/10 for this record. It’s good, but it’s not breaking any ground. I am excited to see them put out something relevant, but in my opinion, it is just another Bosstones record with more timely lyrics. Of course, that’s great! But I won’t be getting through the whole thing again any time soon.
7.5 / 10
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