The Toasters

Enemy of the System

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You've got to hand it to the Toasters. When the third ska revival hit in the mid-'90s, they had already been on the scene for over a decade, and bandleader Rob Hingley's Moon Ska NYC label was home to some of America's (and Canada's and England's) best ska bands. They took advantage of ska's new wave of popularity by releasing a truckload of albums by young bands, and while some have criticized Moon for a certain lack of discrimination during that period, there was no question that the Toasters' own releases were of the highest quality. With the subsequent collapse of the ska revival and the partial collapse of the record industry, Moon went out of business, and the Toasters went back to doing what they do best: playing top-notch 2-tone-derived modern ska for live audiences. Their first studio album in five years shows blessedly little in the way of artistic maturation; it's chock-full of the same old straight-up, R&B-influenced ska that the band has been playing since the early '80s. Blues influences are both explicit (as in "Sweet Home Town Jamaica," a blatant rewrite of "Sweet Home Alabama") and implied (as in the song title "Sitting on Top of the World," which has nothing to do with the Howlin' Wolf classic), and tempos are generally brisk; things occasionally slow to a more sedate skank (as on the excellent "Pendulum"), but for the most part this is joyful, upbeat ska. There are two hidden tracks at the end of the album. Enemy of the System is maybe not quite up to the highest standards this band has set before, but then, those standards are very high. Recommended.

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