Reel Big Fish is one of the bands that really rode the punk-ska wave in the 90s. “Sell Out” was a bright and happy song that ran counter to the grunge that had dominated a lot of the 90s. Before you even hear a note of their new album, you realize that the band maintains its sense of humor with the title Life Sucks…Let’s Dance.
The album begins with the title track, and you get a big dose of what made 90s ska so great. It has a bouncy melody with bright horns and lyrics that are easy to sing. You also get a sense for the band’s sense of humor. Aaron Barrett describes a bleak situation in which things might be worse than they’ve ever been. He counters that with “Maybe if we have some fun, we won’t feel so bad.” Dancing is a natural response to this song. If you can sit still while listening to it, you may need to check your vitals.
The album goes heavy on the horns, but there are a couple songs that are decidedly more punk than ska. The horns take a rest in “Tongue Tied and Tipsy Too,” which features some loud and fast guitar that would get fans moving in a circle pit. In true punk fashion, this song is less than two minutes long. The guitar and bass in “Bleached Thang, Baby” are reminiscent of Mighty Mighty Bosstones – at least until the instrumental break. At that point, the guitar part takes a turn toward a classic-rock sound.
“The Good Old Days” is a song that makes you take notice – mostly because the intro features an organ part that sounds like it was made for the roller rink. This song is also interesting for its introspection. Barrett takes a brief look back to 1995, then muses, “Someday I’ll look at now and wish I could go back there somehow.”
The real testament to this band is that it can make songs seem bright even when the lyrics are about being pissed off or heartbroken. But then maybe that’s always been part of the charm of ska: the fact that it seems happy even when the overall tone is melancholy. If you’re a fan of 90s ska, this album will take you right back to the days when ska magically rode a wave of popularity.