Review Summary: Big D suffer an identity crisis and fall on their faces trying to jump back seven years or more.
Over time, ska has come to envelop a lot of different elements. Sure, the horns are standard, and the rock/punk/reggae fusion's generally right up there as well. Some bands hit the brass a little harder than others while others pour focus into aspects such as latin percussion, uptempo'd singing, and gimmicky lyrics. While one of the biggest distinctions in ska music can arguably be drawn along the lines of upbeat (Reel Big Fish) as opposed to downbeat (Streetlight Manifesto), the one persistent and entirely necessary element of any ska music is undoubtedly the high-running current of energy the music evokes. It just doesn't seem like you can have bands like Goldfinger, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, or, yes, Big D and the Kids Table, without that energy.
And that's where the problem lies with For the Damned, the Dumb, and the Delirious
. While their last two releases, Strictly Rude
and the arguably innovative Fluent in Stroll
, built up bolts of energy and incorporated new ideas, For the Damned, the Dumb, and the Delirious
never manages to get out of its armchair. There's a distinct and apparent sloth to the album despite the fast-pacing of the band's instrumental work.
This problem seems to stem from a few distinct issues. The core issue probably lies in the fact that the album is just too huge and many of the tracks are too short. For a seventeen (eighteen if you count the bonus track) song album, the runtime lasts a little over 52 minutes. Ordinarily, this wouldn't be such a problem; 52 minutes is a pretty solid album runtime. Unfortunately, the band's riffs get old, fast. A lot of the speedy punk strumming comes across as repetitive and there's only so much that organs and horns can do to shine up the sound before that gets old, too.
All of this just feels completely out of place following previous effort Fluent in Stroll
, which showed Big D incorporating a surf rock sound and turning their sound into a more catchy, poppish affair. Here, to borrow a line from my fellow reviewer, Michael Pinto, it seems that the return to the punk sound is accompanied by a feeling that the band is "trying too hard" once again. And nowhere is that more apparent than the vocals and lyrics of David McWane.
While Fluent in Stroll
showed a more mellow side of McWane's voice, For the Damned, the Dumb, and the Delirious
shows a straining McWane struggling to find a consistent tone. "Best of Them All" takes on an Irish pub sound, while "Rotten" has McWane singing with a British slant that seems entirely out of place, and otherwise, as on "My Buddy's Back," it just seems that David grumbles and groans. This has the effect of removing all passion even from songs that are obviously very personal and manages to toss a bland coating on even the songs with the best instrumental passages.
The uplifting tone on Fluent in Stroll
is also gone, both lyrically and musically, replaced with depression and anger that makes you wonder how the same band managed to make both albums. Again, there's a fairly wide divide between upbeat ska and downbeat ska, and while it seems that Big D did the upbeat sound quite well their last time around, this album, at many times, comes across as a bad ripoff of Streetlight Manifesto with way too many echo effects.
Seriously, a paragraph needs to be dedicated to this: there is an echo effect in nearly every song (see "Roxbury (Roots 'N' Shoots)" for the worst culprit), and nearly every time, it's incredibly hard to justify. It really just draws out a note and throws another hollow level into the sound. It's as if Big D decided that echo effects were a necessary ska component that the album simply couldn't be without, and so they layered every track with echoes as an afterthought.
The final nail in the coffin is the simplicity of the lyrics. While, in the past, Big D have generated some good, quirky lyrics, everything here is generic, if not cheesy. You have your standard drinking lyrics, your punk lyrics about destroying things for anarchy's sake and because people don't appreciate punk, your standard homecoming and reuniting lyrics, and, for some reason, political lyrics. Yes, that's right. Big D venture into the realm of the political more than a few times on the album. Think American Idiot
political. It's just not something the Big D sound needs.
To sum it all up, For the Damned, the Dumb, and the Delirious
are two huge steps back for Big D and the Kids Table. The album is flawed by a desire to regress to a punk sound that no longer fits the character of the band all the while failing to find a proper way to do it. In order to recoup, Big D will have a lot of soul searching to do. Hopefully in the process, they'll figure out that no band should ever write lyrics about "World of Warcraft."