In the history of popular music, there are a handful of genres that have been maligned to the point that they’re remembered as the absolute nadir of culture, even if there might have been a handful of tunes worth saving on your iPod. Disco is the prime example, and no amount of ABBA-based musicals or “Saturday Night Fever” retrospectives will wash away the memories of people dancing awkwardly to Donna Summer at Studio 54. The swing revival from the late ’90s will never be mentioned in any loving retrospectives despite some quality singles from Squirrel Nut Zippers, and though plenty of the bands from the era are still working and drawing crowds and sales, nobody ever really says, “You know what I miss? Nü metal!”
And then there’s ska, or specifically the ska-punk revival that flooded the airwaves between 1993 and 1998. The micro-genre that blended the Third Wave sound of the Specials and Madness with the radio-friendly pop-punk of Green Day had its time in the sun and fizzled out when the backlash set in (and was ironically replaced by the nü metal movement). Some of what was said about ska was true: Too many bands were self-consciously goofy, the genre was too narrow and most of the albums didn’t get past their radio-friendly singles. But there were a handful of acts that crafted delicious, jagged pop tunes that just happened to have the occasional trombone solo, including Less Than Jake and Voodoo Glow Skulls.
Which brings us to the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, who got the trend started when they scored a hit with “Someday I Suppose” back in 1993 and later cemented themselves as a big deal when they appeared in “Clueless” in 1995. A group of alpha-dogs performing a particularly hard-edged version of the sound called “ska-core,” the Bosstones created a signature sound that scored them a number of hits like the ubiquitous “The Impression That I Get” and “So Sad to Say.” They were best-known for two things: The fact that they employed a full-time dancer in the band and frontman Dicky Barrett’s signature whiskey-soaked howl (which can currently be heard on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” — Barrett is the announcer on that show).
The band recently got back together and recorded their first new album in seven years. It’s called Pin Points and Gin Joints, and it’s actually amazing. It’s a raw, passionate album full of incredible pop hooks and killer riffs. But the most notable aspect of Pin Points and Gin Joints is Barrett’s storytelling. His lyrics always tended to be based around narrative, but he really spins some killer yarns on this one. “I Wrote It,” “Wasted Summers,” “Graffiti Worth Reading,” “Sister Mary” and especially “The Bricklayer’s Story” are all incredible stories about summertime nostalgia, working-class tragedy and the thrill of banging around the streets of Boston with nothing but your friends and your will. It’s no surprise that the record was produced by Ted Hutt, who has helped craft breakout records for similarly literate punkers like the Gaslight Anthem, Street Dogs and Flogging Molly.
So give the Mighty Mighty Bosstones a chance. Think of them as the E Street Band with speedier grooves, brassier horn solos and a bigger drinking problem. It’s a stellar combination that you shouldn’t write off just because it can be described as the s-word.