Gangster Fun

Pure Sound, Pure Hogwash, Pure Amphetamines

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For years, the Midwest was viewed as a ska wasteland, seemingly oblivious to the genre's charms. As scenes took root on the coasts, in the heartland the ground lay barren, except for one brave, long suffering band -- Gangster Fun. Formed in 1986, the first inkling most ska fans had of their existence came three years later, when the Gangsters appeared on the Mashin' Up the Nation compilation. Their debut, Come See Come Ska (a British-only vinyl album), also arrived in 1989, followed, in 1993, by their Time Flies When You're Gangster Fun cassette, and five years passed before the group got around to releasing this, their first CD. No wonder rumors of their demise were rife, and outside the Midwest Pure Sound, Pure Hogwash, Pure Amphetamines was often treated as their recording debut. It also explains why the band's sound was far removed from the rest of the modern ska pack. Like many of their contemporaries, the Gangsters fell to the 2 Tone attack and modeled their own assault on that sound, most tellingly on the careening Madness-flavored "Date with Density." They drew deeply on the darkness at the core of the Specials, a shadowed atmosphere that streaks virtually all the Gangsters' songs. It pools around "Skarabia," hovers over the "Night of the Living Stove," and ominously presses against the "Blue Serge Suit," although it's conversely lifted on "Oh Paranoia." That latter song is splashed with big-band-styled brass, a device that Gangster had added only a few years earlier, which reaches its apotheosis on the boogying, swinging "Suit." "California" has a distinctly jazzy edge, but it's cut with funk, a genre that the band explores more thoroughly on "Butt Down Under." That title reveals another facet to the group, lyrics that are as sly as their music -- dark, tongue-in-cheek, surreal (a stove out for vengeance?!), and in the case of "Dirty Love," downright sleazy. That song, of course, was written by Frank Zappa, but fits perfectly into the Gangsters' repertoire. And that repertoire is quite astounding, as the set's first untitled track illustrates. Imagine sitting on Pluto and flicking through the airwaves, picking up snatches of music, commercials, programs, and burlesque revues, all disconnected, a mishmash of sound bytes that one struggles to make sense of. In utter contrast, the second bonus track is the Gangsters' statement of intent, simultaneously looking back and forward, a defiant declaration that they and their music live on, with a nod to David Bowie and Mott the Hoople along the way. And so the Gangsters rock on, better than ever, and after all these years America finally was properly introduced to a band whose devotion to ska never flagged.

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