The Skunks

No Apologies

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Bands have the ability to liberate and exhilarate; they can also irritate, frustrate, and infuriate, but few groups can elicit every one of those emotions, the Skunks being one of those rare exceptions. The Washington, D.C., Skunks introduced themselves to the ska scene in 1994 with their debut album, Mixed Nuts. Their bellowing horns roaring out over upbeat danceable melodies, often beholden to 2-Tone, was a winning combination, and skankers around the country eagerly awaited a tour and a follow-up. Instead, to everyone's disappointment, the Skunks promptly broke up -- so much potential gone to waste. But sorrow turned to glee when the news leaked out a year later that the Skunks had re-formed, and were beginning work on a new album. Their sophomore set, No Apologies, arrived in 1996, to much deserved acclaim. More eclectic than their previous effort, No Apologies presents the Skunks diligently exploring all of Jamaica's traditional styles, expanding the concept to include early reggae and dub, punk and 2-Tone, paying tribute to numerous bands and musicians along the way. But in typical Skunks style, nothing is quite what it seems. Their lateral thinking is evident across a trio of tracks that begins with the storming 2-Tone on amphetamines of "80 Seconds of Ska"; then bashes into a cover of the 4-Skins' "Yesterday's Heroes," laced with Clash-ing guitars, lashings of brass, and blistering organ; and then finishes off with the incendiary punkabilly of "Trinity," where the brass again blaze out in Jamaican fashion overhead, brilliantly reconnecting the dots between ska, punk, 2-Tone, and rock. Adding scratchy old effects to "Summertime 1969" cleverly emphasizes the song's trad flavor, while the seemingly straightforward jazz-drenched instrumental "Dick Simon" is overturned with arena rock guitar and wah-wah effects. Languorous surf guitar snakes through "Josephine," only to transform into bluesy passages later in the piece, before returning to splash briefly across the pumping "Sorry." From the heavy, heavy monster dub of "Dubz 57 Sauce" to the bopping "Swing Out Skasper," through third wave knees-up Two Tone tributes, and across a series of jazzy excursions, No Apologies explores it all. But the excitement is found in the way the Skunks combine these traditional elements into ever more enthralling combinations, tinged with bits of rock and electronic wizardry. The album was a masterpiece, which made it all the more frustrating that the Skunks played so few shows, and rarely left their hometown. And to fans' total exasperation, the group promptly broke up again in the wake of the record's release.

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