Review Summary: Catchy Superhero Ska10 of 10 thought this review was well written
The Fury of the Aquabats
"When we last left our team of superheroes and lovers. . .
In order to liberate The Aquabats' homeland (the lost continent of
Aquabania) from the evil clutches of the great and abominable
Space Monster 'M', the Professor had launched The Aquabats
on a full global assault to take over the world through music...
... As our saga continues, we find that things have not fared so
well for our friends. They took day jobs and toured the suburbs
in an ice cream truck selling Aqua-Pops and Lemon Pica in order
to just survive, let alone dominate the world.
Still the threat continues. Not only is Aquabania in distress, but
we find that America and possibly the entire planet is faced with
potential calamity from this intergalactic tyrant. Outnumbered
and distraught, are The Aquabats done for? What opposition lies
ahead? Did I leave the iron on? Stay awake, kids, as this story
unravels. Just remember what counts - it's not the size of the
battle . . . it's the fury.
THE FURY OF THE AQUABATS!"
- From the CD's packaging
In the realm of surf-powered ska, The Aquabats have few peers. Their quick, energetic beats permeate every song on thei second release, The Fury of the Aquabats, also their last full ska record.
The Aquabats' later shift in style is comparable to No Doubt's move from ska to a more rhythm and blues-influenced style in recent years. The Aquabats, on the other hand, moved to more of an eclectic Devo-esque rock styling. While I myself prefer their later sounds to the surf guitars and light drums of their first two releases, "The Fury of the Aquabats" is in itself an excellent release, and a great example of the ingenuity and originality of the band.
Much of the style of the band can be absorbed from their album packaging. Featuring a lengthy status update on the progress of their heroic goals, and depicting our heroes in their superposes, the art makes you think: "Didn't these guys used to have a T.V. show or something?" That idle musing may not be far from the truth: The Aquabats were in negotiation with Fox or some network for a syndicated television show (parts of the pilot episode are viewable on their website, with similar content on their DVD), but the network had second thoughts and decided not to run the show.
Still, The Aquabats keep the energy high, in concert or in their albums - none can accuse the band of slacking off during their performances and music (although the band is notorious for long lengths between CD releases - it took nearly six years for the band to release a follow-up record). The Fury of the Aquabats features some of their most popular songs, plus must-improved versions of three of the songs from their self-titled debut: "Martian Girl!", "Idiot Box!" and (as a secret track), a redo of "Playdough!".
Yes, all of the song titles on this record end in exclamation points.
"The captain, he said:
'There's danger ahead!
We need some brave men to sail,
And then we'll find us those pirates -
Stop them with violence,
To make the oceans safe once again.' "
- From "Captain Hampton and the Midget Pirates!"
This musical release features The Aquabats' full range: Battles with villains (Powdered Milk Man, one of their most vicious rivals, pays a visit), silly and serious love songs ("Magic Chicken!", "Red Sweater!", "The Story of Nothing!", "My Skateboard", "Martian Girl". . . Heck, half of the CD), two epic instrumentals, warnings about technology, stories of terror, comedy and lost love fill all out the record. One of the songs, "Captain Hampton and the Midget Pirates!", is probably one of the funniest, catchiest songs I've heard since "Fire Water Burn" by Bloodhound Gang (though a good deal more lighthearted). The Aquabats nearly become your friends through their music - how many bands can claim that?
The album's opener, "Super Rad!", is perhaps The Aquabats' most popular song (it's the only song the radio stations play, anyway). The song kicks off with a pure surf-ska opening: two quick notes, then a main riff with trumpets and surf guitars. Most of the tracks feature similar boppy openings: "Red Sweater!" opens with a '60s-style "Bop shoo-wop, Bop shoo-wop", "Powdered Milk Man!" parodies the opening of Black Sabbath's song "Iron Man", with a deep voice bellowing "I AM POWDERED-MILK MAN!"
Many tracks don't follow the typical pattern, however - "Attacked By Snakes!", for one, begins with a haunting tango (every music review has to describe something as "haunting"), and "Phantasma Del Mar!" features an intro sounding like a '60s superhero show.
The Bat Commander employs his trademark strange vocal stylings on the songs, holding some syllables inexplicably, only to seemingly rap through a whole line for no reason. The effect serves to keep the record unique, while keeping the sound fresh. Some songs get a straight-up serious vocal treatment (like "My Skateboard!", a highly emotional song), while sillier songs like "Cat With 2 Heads!" are hammed up. The sillier moments on the album are priceless, of course, but it's a nice change when the band can turn down the weirdness level for a brief moment, as they did in their followup CD with "Hello, Goodnight".
But campy weirdness is the overall mood of the CD, and fans of the eclectic and fun should eat this stuff up. It's completely infectious. Boppier and somewhat shallower than "The Aquabats Vs. the Floating Eye of Death", but featuring some of the fastest, happiest songs I've heard in awhile, this album is truly a find.
"We floated across the ocean in a hollowed-out log,
From the Blue Beaches to the Land of Smog.
We washed up on the beach, the Professor took us in,
That's where the experiments begin.
He gave us superpowers from chemicals.
He gave us instruments so we could rock and roll!
Now we're here to fight and make our foes our friends,
To take your money and go home again."
- From "Theme Song!"
I highly recommend this album to fans of ska, new-wave rock bands like Devo, lighter alternative bands like They Might Be Giants - in general, fans of original, non-cookie-cutter music. You're going to love this.
USELESS TRIVIA: The original drummer for The Aquabats was none other than Travis Barker, who, if my memory serves me right, rarely wore his full super-uniform. He later went on to replace the drummer of a fledgling band named - you guessed it - Blink 182. (If I already said this in my "Floating Eye of Death" review, just ignore it.)
This is definitely the band's most popular song (even popular songs like the great "Pizza Day" and somewhat less great "Pool Party" can't touch it). The song's lyrics are humorous without being jokey, and retain just enough of the Aquabats' mythos to keep newbies confused (what the heck is "Mission Code Name: 'Applesauce' "). Great fun and a great album opener.
The first silly love song of the album, this song has a retro, '60s malt shop feel. Appropriately silly, affectionate lyrics bring the song home: "You're my girl, I'm your man. I don't care if we live in a garbage can. . .".
While I used to find this song annoying, it's certainly grown on me. I still find it very strange, however; it's basically a love song to a girl, with the two sharing a near-obsessive love of chicken. The "Dare To Be Stupid"-like "repeat after me!" part in the middle is among the more bizarre things I've heard ( "Do the popcorn chicken! Do the KFC! Do the buffalo wing! . . ." ). It's very catchy and happy. This song somehow reminds me of "Buddy Holly" by Weezer, for completely inexplicable reasons.
A great instrumental, "Fight Song!" sounds like something you'd hear during the original "Batman" television series. Lightning-fast riffs accentuated by the sounds of fighting - smashing bottles and grunting. TRIVIA: Guess what song The Aquabats play during villain fights at their concerts?
Cat With 2 Heads!:
It's your call: this song is either a chiling warning about the perils of genetic experimentation or just an excuse to write: "It chewed right through the locks, and ate all the New Kids on the Block!" The chorus is very catchy, with its echoing chant. The spoken bridge is equally memorable: "I was in my laboratory, creating what I thought would be - well, something great for the world: a two-headed cat. . . But little did I know the powers of atomic energy would create a two-headed, man-eating MONSTER!"
The Story of Nothing!:
With this song The Aquabats veer dangerously into "normal" territory. The whole song is basically an attempt of the singer to change the subject from his lost love before he becomes completely "invisible". Seriously, though, it's a great song, and I have strong positive memories about it: once upon a time, The Aquabats ran back onto the stage ten minutes after their "last" song for one final encore, which was . . . you guessed it . . . "The Story of Nothing!"!
Captain Hampton and the Midget Pirates!:
This is probably the funniest song I've ever heard. Like The Aquabats' best songs, it's not funny in a "jokey, jokey" way - the humor in the song is much more Monty Python-esque; not subtle, but clever. The fast-paced, ocean-themed song intersperses its catchy verses and choruses with spoken updates on the fate of the song's protagonist. It's a thrilling song.
The first repeat from the last album, "Martian Girl!" is much improved in its newer, polished form, if a bit strange - even by the 'Bats' standards. It's a perfect example of twisted love: How can I express my true feelings toward a carnivorous alien without getting eaten? Oh, the pathos.
Attacked By Snakes!:
Suddenly, the reptiles of the world unite against the Bat Commander! He wakes up in the middle of the night to find his house surrounded with serpents. It's a doom-filled song - tango-like, and the Bat Commander hisses his 'S's a little bit to accentuate the danger. They have a lot of fun with this song, but it's a little loo long.
The song is basically a warning of the perils of excessive television-consumption. It has fairly funny lyrics, stressing the effect T.V. has had on the singer's thought patterns: "I'm sitting in my living room with nothing left to do, I think I'm going blind just like Mr. Magoo, I know every single ending to every Scooby Doo. . .". The song is a plea to "turn off the idiot box", but I'm not fooled - the Bat Commander has been doing television appearances and voice work for years.
USELESS TRIVIA: This marks the first time a USELESS TRIVIA update has appeared in the track listings, but it's a good 'un. The Bat Commander has a semi-prolific acting career; he actually guest-starred in several episodes of "Roseanne" back in the day, and did a regular voice for the old Disney Channel television series "Gummy Bears". (All of this was before The Aquabats really took off, of course.)
Powdered Milk Man!:
This is an incredibly fun song; very catchy, and epic. I love the interlude, peppered with the sounds of battle. "Powdered Milk Man" is one of The Aquabats' oldest rivals, and the song treats him with appropriate contempt.
"Gentlemen, I've got bad news. . . it looks like Powdered Milk Man's back." - The Bat Commander, from The Aquabats' DVD.
Probably my favorite song on the record, "My Skateboard!" is a fairly emotional song, featuring the sincerest singing and most serious lyrics on the CD. No mention of superheroes, villains, or experiments-gone-awry - just a sincere lament to a thrown-away chance at love: "Why'd you go and change your mind? You can pick and choose, but with him you're gonna lose, every time, time, t-t-time. . .".
Phantasma Del Mar!:
This is a very slow-paced but rewarding instrumental. It's hard to put a finger on the sound, but it reminds me of the song to the closing credits of an old television show (it actually sounds quite like the opening song the band recorded for "The Eltingville Club" on Cartoon Network). For a so-called pure "ska" band, The Aquabats have remarkable range.
This nearly edges out "Tiny Pants" as the weirdest The Aquabats song ever. Featuring banjos, extremely weird singing and group vocals, it's easy to overlook the theme of the song - friendship is more important than vengeance and covetousness.
Here's a jumping little number. This song should fill the uninitiated in on the entire history of the band. It's very catchy. See the lyrics quoted above.
Wait six minutes or so after the final track (why do bands do this? Really, why?), and you'll hear the "final" song on the album. The song opens with a brief description of The Aquabats' hideout, before sliding into an old fan standout song, an ode to nostalgia and childhood - the everpresent "Playdough"! The lyrics are nostalgic and silly, as only The Aquabats can make them: "When I was a little man, Playdough came in a little can. I was Star Wars' biggest fan - now I'm stuck without a plan. G.I. Joe was an action man, Shaggy drove the Mystery Van. Devo was my favorite band, so take me back to my happy land." An ironic note for a band that, blessedly, manages to be thought-provoking and fun without quite growing up.
Conclusion and Summary
Album Highs: Great, fun ska. Hilarious and accessible lyrics.
Album Lows: Very silly (decide for yourself if this is a low or not).
Rating: **** (Unconditional Recommendation)
Recipe: One part surf-rock, one part nerdcore nostalgia, serves fans of ska, comedy, easy-going rock and Devo.
My Content Rating: G (TV-Y7; fantasy violence and comic mischief )
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