Review Summary: Welcome aboard the good ship Mad Caddy, and prepare to have yer timbers well and truly shivered ye filthy landlubber!!! YAHARRRGH, and such...
It was 2001, and the ska-punk boom of the mid-to-late 90s was tailing off. The scene leaders were going back to indie labels (Less Than Jake
) or becoming less prolific (Reel Big Fish
), and to make things worse, nu-metal was at its foul red-capped peak, so when underground ska-punk heroes the Mad Caddies
announced the arrival of their imminent “pirate-punk” opus Rock The Plank
, the world asked a collective “what the ****?!”
Thankfully, with a few spins of Rock The Plank
, the “what the ****?!” factor remains, but in a good way, as the Caddies have yet again spliced elements from both the heavy and poppy ends of the punk spectrum, along with a hefty dose of ska, reggae, but also with the added the special ingredient of pirate-core, all to great effect. The variety of sounds on offer here is excellent, and nicely schizophrenic at times, but every song works, and no single part sounds forced by any means.
Commendably, the band haven’t turned every song into a full-on sea shanty, but the seafaring element is present in some form or another throughout the album. For example “We’ll Start To Worry When The Cynics Start Believing”
is a bouncy skankfest, driven by some nice offbeat drumming and catchy rolling basslines, topped off with jumpy upstrokes on the guitar. Although the lyrics are about staying true to oneself, and don’t really delve into swashbuckling territory, the feel of the song invokes the mirthful image of pirates drinking and dancing about in the sun on the deck of a ship. Or maybe it’s just me… Either way, it never fails to raise a smile, which has always been the point of the Mad Caddies’ music.
However, the aforementioned song underlines the one real weakness of Rock The Plank
. Read my description of the song again. What do you notice is missing? That’s right: the horns. It seems that they’ve taken a backseat this time around, not featuring at all in some songs, and much less prominent than before. There’s certainly none of the brass-fuelled freakouts that made songs like “Monkeys”
and “Road Rash”
so brilliant. However, there is the new addition of an accordion and Hammond organ on a few tracks and, as demonstrated by the previous year’s The Holiday Has Been Cancelled
EP, Chuck’s vocals have improved significantly, running the gamut from a soft croon all the way to a gruff, almost hardcore-style shout. Admittedly, there are times when you’d be hard-pushed to realise that this is the same band that recorded Duck And Cover
, and for some this may be a problem, but personally, I find progression to be a good thing, and Rock The Plank
is certainly no less enjoyable for it.
Kicking off with the frantic punk rock shot in the arm that is “Shaving Your Life”
, leading into the much more ska-orientated ode to pot-smoking that is “Mary Melody”
, perhaps the song most reminiscent of the Caddies’ earlier material, the album gets off to a strong start. During the next half hour we get shiny happy nuggets of pop-punk like “B-Side”
and “Easy Cheese”
, the downbeat reggae-influenced “Days Away”
, the surprisingly Strung Out-esque “Bridges”
, and another frantic punk rock stormer in the form of “Depleted Salvo”
with its huge chorus and vocal trade-offs and harmonies. More pirate-friendly is the one-two punch of “Chevy Novacaine”
and “Booze Cruise”
, the former featuring a guitar lead that sounds like it’s been taken straight out of a sea shanty, and the latter with another strong showing from the horn section. Despite the Strokes having stolen the intro riff for their “Juicebox” single, “Hound Bound
rocks way harder than the aforementioned bunch of plagiarists ever could.
However, the two songs that deserve a special mention have got to be “Weird Beard”
, and closing track “All American Badass”
. The first is a full on sea-shanty that’ll put a right shiver in yer timbers!!! (Sorry!). Beginning with a evil yet jolly sounding accordion tune, slowly building up to the shout-along chorus, with subtle horn pieces here and there. Chuck does a commendable job of imitating a pirate voice, as well as that of a loose woman (or should that be “wench”?) the protagonists come across. I guarantee that by your second listen, you’ll not only know all of the words, but you’ll be raising at every greasy land-lubber about who isn’t screaming “WHOA-OH-OH-OH, RAISE ‘EM IN THE AIR, WE’LL KNOCK YER UP AND SLAP YER DOWN AND NEVER SEEM TO CARE!!! WHOA-OH-OH-OH, ANOTHER ONE FOR ME, WE’RE THE FILTHY VERMIN THAT’LL SET YOU PEOPLE FREE!!!”
For a number that’s often derided as merely a novelty song, “Weird Beard”
is incredibly catchy, and easily a highlight of the album (something that I can say without detriment to the rest of the album).
“All American Badass”
is a spectacular combination of polka and horn-led punk which bears a striking resemblance to NOFX
’s “Theme From A NOFX Album,” apart from the small matter that this is considerably more catchy and riotous!!! The lyrics aim some valid, yet hilarious criticism at steroid-abusers (“I thought you knew what steroids do to your drunken little pecker”
being a particular highlight), and the kind of punk fans who like to beat people up at shows. This infectious punk-rock-hoe-down is in fact the song that the Caddies usually end all their shows with, and in this case, it brings an end to the proceedings of a fun and varied album.
If they have any sense, all fans of ska and punk and all their related genres should be rocking the plank with this pillaging, plundering, swashbuckling band of merry men.