The blaring horns of Reel Big Fish’s endless energy are back on their latest album, We’re Not Happy ‘Till You’re Not Happy. The trademark ska-punk sound is kept in tack as the band covers a few favorites and adds some new self-deprecating tunes to its repertoire.
The Orange County natives were pioneers in the third-wave ska movement of the early 1990s. Reel Big Fish is known for its mix of uppity tunes and bitingly sarcastic lyrics. The band created quite a following with ridiculously energetic live shows and crowd-pleasing attitudes. Although the band has made a few shifts in members over the years, the sound remains relatively unchanged.
Reel Big Fish hit the big time once, going certified gold with the album Turn the Radio Off and the hit track “Sellout” in 1996. However, since then the boys have remained out of the radio scene, producing quite a few more albums but never making it back to MTV status. Labeled by some who did not see the irony as “sellouts,” the band continued making music for fans. We’re Not Happy ‘Till You’re Not Happy sounds essentially like the band’s former albums, Cheer Up and Why Do They Rock So Hard. Reel Big Fish has covered many a song in its day and chose three interesting picks for this album. The first cover “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful” was originally recorded by Morrissey and is a bouncy, horn-heavy version of the first. Reel Big Fish’s version of Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ Bout A Revolution” is a fun, hand-clapping sing-along. The worst cover effort is the Social Distortion classic “Story Of My Life.” Lead singer Aaron Barrett’s vocals are too high and pleasant to capture even a bit of Mike Ness’s original rawness.
Reel Big Fish not only manages to maintain its well-known sound but generally keeps the same theme. Like “Beer” of the past, We’re Not Happy has a track titled “Drinkin’,” whose lyrics are appropriately about alcohol consumption. “Turn the Radio Off” seems like a too-late track from the album of the same name in 1996.
The standout track on the album is titled “Your Guts (I Hate ‘Em).”
The song is dedicated to an anonymous someone, and Barrett sings, “I hate your guts, and I think you suck.” The upbeat sound is an obvious contrast to the lyrics in typical Reel Big Fish style. The song “A-W-E-S-O-M-E” is unfortunately anything but the obvious, is too contrived and seems like the band is trying too hard to replicate past albums. In the effort to remain predictable, about five minutes after the final track, a “hidden” song appears. In the past this song has been everything from the absurd to a track that appears off the subsequent CD. On We’re Not Happy, the track is a big disappointment, being little more than a colossal static mess. The album is certainly consistent but offers nothing new. Fans will appreciate the tradition of the band’s sound, and even newcomers would enjoy the cover songs. However, Reel Big Fish sounds like it’s sliding on the downside of a once-great hill.