mu330 – Crab Rangoon

4 out of 5

Label: Asian Man Records

Producer: mu330 and David Probst

‘Crab Rangoon’ found mu330 stripped down to a five-piece group, making for a more traditional guitar / bass / drums core with only a couple of horns for support.  However, the chops that gave ‘Chumps on Parade’ its energy came from lead Dan Potthast’s toe-tapping song compositions, which were already eschewing much of the college-ska sound of ‘Press’ in favor of something rock or punk centric.  So though ‘Crab’ lacks the flush sound of that previous disc (and the kind of manic vibe that happens when a whole gang of dudes are singing along and jamming on a song), from the blast of silly/snide opener ‘Tune Me Out,’ the group is letting us know that the soul of mu330 is still alive and well.  With ‘Fragile’ and ‘The Struggle of Helen,’ Dan also gets to introduce us to an acoustic side with more ‘open’ lyrics which could, without missing a beat, translate over to his solo albums which, at this point, were to come.  The flipside of this is something more aggressive, like ‘Around You,’ which almost exclusively functions like a rock track and would’ve seemed at home on the even more pared down self-titled disc which would follow this one.  But by bouncing between all of these styles while maintaining their forward momentum, ‘Crab’ keeps you engaged throughout.  Probst’s production again emphasizes all the right moments and lets stars like drummer Ted Moll shine, and shifts the horns in the mix so that it’s clear that we’re looking at these as songs and not just another group on the ska bandwagon.

The only element that sits rather uncomfortably is the more serious slant to a lot of the lyrics.  Almost half of the tracks are covering politics (‘Ireland’) or more personal events (‘Funny Papers,’ ‘Father Friendly’) without the wry wink that lets the listener know it’s okay to still dance to the songs… and perhaps I’m just missing the joke, but I always feel a little odd singing along to tracks about cancer or rape.  Thankfully, I can remain ignorant and worry-free when classics like ‘X-Mas Card’ come on, and I can get my accessible-and-crowd-friendly sad croon on.

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