3 out of 5
Label: Jump Up! Records
Produced by: Mephiskapheles
The dad-rock version of satanic ska, because that’s something you needed in your life.
This is, undeniably, Mephiskapheles, operating like 15 years after the fact in their Might-Ay White-Ay grunge format, which, though my least favorite of their albums / styles, is still a unique sounding brew to which I’m happy to return, even in a dad-rock format.
I’m applying that tag because the satan drapery is very much an “act” now, applied in ham-fisted daaaaaad style right from the get-go with the painful try-hard lyrics of Satan Stole My Weed; where that doesn’t apply – and thankfully, beyond this opener, it really doesn’t – no-longer-going-by-a-nickname vocalist Andre Worrell is getting socially conscious with lyrics about casual racism (Snakes in the Garden) or fame-baiting (Any Fool); and musically, the ska stuff is somewhat drapery to Helmet-esque riffs or standard 2-tone beats.
Now, to be clear, I’m not claiming that Meph was ever serious or subtle, but the balance they found with their shtick was part of their gift: the embrasure of off-key tunings and odd rhythms gave them an “evil” sound that they creatively used and abused through various ska / rock permutations, and lyrically, weed was never far away, but things were more generally swirled in a veneer of quirky imagery, and humor, and the rare barbs that spoke to an intelligent design. That stuff started to fade a bit on the crunch M-A W-A, but it was still a strong sound, particular to the band.
And now to backpedal: because this is probably what the band should be doing at this point, and while it’s maybe no longer as unique sounding, it’s still, as I started, undeniably Mephiskapheles. Older and with different concerns, I can understand the opening track as sort of like just getting the devil stuff out of the way as obnoxiously as possible. I don’t think it’s that thought out, per se, but that’s exactly the point: I don’t think much thought was put into it at all. Brush your hands and it’s done.
The rest of the tracks thereafter coast between some familiar sounding ska-touched rock and tracks that are much more straight up the latter – rock – than anything else, but the group grooves together well, and Andre still has glorious grit and energy in his vocals, and if singing about more relatable modern ills is a way for him to remain enthused on that front, I’m all for it. Friends Like You ever-so-briefly dips back into Maximum Perversion momentum, which is exciting, admittedly making me wonder / hope that further sessions together might get the group back to some more exploratory territory… but even without that, this is a welcome return, sounding both familiar and “new,” the group giving into age to play what’s more comfortable, but which ultimately makes sense.