Like so much traditional ska these days, Playtime is an album without a personality. Pleasant enough to listen to, if highly repetitive, it makes no impression whatsoever, even after repeated listening. It's ska as elevator music (which is exactly what the version of the Beatles "Norwegian Wood" is). Mostly made up of maddeningly long instrumentals, Playtime does little to expand on the history of instrumental ska, or to hold the listeners attention. While there are interesting bits and pieces in here, the overall effect is unimpressive.
DION KNIBB & THE AGITATORS - Driving Me Mad
CD - 1998 DVS Media
review by megan
Dion Knibb & the Agitators have managed to make an album that, for the most part, sounds like it traveled over the ocean and through time, from 1960's Jamaica to 1990's U.S. On the back of the album keyboardist Ken Stewart writes about lead vocalist Dion Knibbs, he "had that 'growl' that captures the essence of classic ska/r&b singers..." and that description is dead on. It's Dion's voice that makes Driving Me Mad so evocative of 1st wave ska, and separates the album from the hundreds of interchangeable trad bands out there now.
Of course, the musicians aren't just along for the ride either. The band is top notch, and fuses the familiar progressions of trad with everything from reggae ("Teaser") to rock ("One Day" - which is what Meatloaf would sound like if he did ska) to funk ("Green Island") while still staying true to the old-style feel of the music.
I never like every song on an album, but Driving Me Mad surprised me. Out of the 13 tracks on the album, five were hands down winners and none were awful (or even bad). "Carribean Eskimo" is a snappy instrumental that should become a DJ classic. "Welcome You Back Home" features guest vocals by Doreen Shaffer, which generally improves any song. In this case though, her smooth, feminine voice provides a fantastic compliment to Knibb's equally smooth masculine sound. The title track, "Driving Me Mad", is a beautifully simple love (ex-love?) song that's perfect to start dancing to, while "Diane" is another love song that, with it's slow beat, is great to end the night with. Finally, "Don't Say I Love You" may be cynical, but it's so poppy that after hearing it once you've got to start singing along. With this many good tunes and songwriting this solid (some of the lyrics may be simple but they're never dumb), Driving Me Mad is a great debut and recommended buy.
Ah the Eclectics! What a complicated album is Idle Worship. One minute it's this, the next minute it's that. For instance: ever wondered what would happen if DC or emo hardcore met ska? Check out the lyrics to "Siddhartha" - "I don't understand this world/ & I'm not the only one/ I'm not alone/society is killing me". Oddly enough though, they make the sound work. It's quick, hard, & with the singer leaning into every note, it sounds like they mean every word of it.
But wait, don't think they've gone mushy! There's another side to the Eclectics too - the evil, evil side. "I'll make you do what I like/ so bitch get on your knees/ I'm not the loving man you can bring home to daddy" they happily sing in "We Can Make It Happen", an ode to male prostitution that somehow still ends up empowering the guy & turning the girl into a whore (go figure).
As for the rest of the album I'm pretty ambivalent. "Laura", "Tell the Time" & the cover "Things We Say" are solid ska songs with a ska-core bent & good energy. Plus, "Things We Say" and "We Can Make It Happen" feature a nice use of backing female melodies. While we're on the subject, the singer has a pretty damn good voice for a 90's ska band - he sounds a lot like the singer for Samiam (there's that DC hardcore alternative whatever connection again). And while their lousy songs ("Had Enough" and "Near And Far") really aren't that bad, I'm still holding a grudge from "We Can Make It Happen". I'd like to recommend Idle Worship on the strength of songs like "Siddhartha" and "Things We Say", which add yet another dimension the sound of ska, but my conscience just won't let me. I'm just too damn sick of "bitch" songs.
Most easily classified as ska-punk, it's not you, it's me isn't a good album, but it is easy to like. At points it's got that plow-ahead energy of punk or early hardcore ("Vertigo Man") that makes you forget how ridiculous the lyrics are or how simplistic the music is. The ska horn parts are the weakest (good ska takes more talent to play well) and the band could be working towards a nice, Jawbreaker/Samiam hardcore sound if they just dropped the ska entirely. At any rate, what you get with it's not you, it's me is repetitive progressions, self-referential lyrics that sometimes rise above type ("Empty"), clever titles, and a whole lot of energy. I can't recommend it and it won't be staying in my collection, but parts of it were definitely fun.
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