Review Summary: The holy grail of third-wave ska is fascinating and wonderful
Reel Big Fish had a song on their first album called “S.R.” containing these lines:
Whatever happened to Suburban Rhythm?
Why did Ed and Scott quit?
For the longest time, I never thought twice about what this lyric meant. When I went to go see Reel Big Fish live last week, though, my friend Colton gave me a little bit of background on the meaning of the song.
Apparently, there used to be a ska band called Suburban Rhythm that people in the ska scene adored. The band folded before it became big, and took on a sort of mythical, martyr status in the process. It was only elevated when Reel Big Fish’s first album hit the mainstream big time.
Upon learning this story, it became a little bit of an obsession for me to learn more about Suburban Rhythm and especially to find their album. I read up on them and started scouring download sites when I finally found that someone had uploaded the album! Jackpot!
Basically this band lasted just a couple of years, and was constantly shifting lineups because the band members couldn’t get along. They recorded sporadically during their lifetime and, a few years after the band folded, someone went through and collected all of the recordings and put them on one CD that was given an extremely limited printing.
The band toured and performed around the same scene that most ska bands did before ska broke back into the mainstream. These guys played alongside the likes of Sublime, No Doubt, and Reel Big Fish that would eventually sell millions and millions of album. Perhaps Suburban Rhythm could have been another one of the third-wave ska titans?
Now that I’ve listened to their legendary album, my answer is: No, they couldn’t have been as popular as those bands. But it’s not because the band is bad. It’s because the band is too experimental. I’m not even sure I’d really call them a straight ska band. They’re more like progressive-psychedelic-funk-ska. I was surprised by how much I liked them.
The band has an extraordinarily vivid sound, which is especially surprising considering how often the band changed lineups and how briefly they existed, and how narrow the genre was at the time. From song to song, the band evokes entirely unique feels, yet there’s a common synth base that links the entire album.
Unfortunately, the band didn’t have the songwriting chops to match some of their contemporaries. A few songs are great, a bunch are filler, and one or two are just plain bad. One thing S.R. is pretty good at, though, is integrating musical ideas from other sources into their music with great success. Several tracks steal from familiar songs with great effect.
Overall, the album is a fascinating curiosity. It’s interesting to wonder how the genre might have evolved differently if this band had reached a broader audience. After all, a lot of the bands that heard Suburban Rhythm later cited them as an influence.
And while it’s reasonable to think their impact could have been enormous if the band had stayed intact, it’s also futile. Some things are just not meant to be. Musical holy grails like this band and this album are more valuable as myths than they are in actual content.