Reel Big Fish – Monkeys for Nothin’ and the Chimps for Free
Record Label: Rock Ridge Music
Release Date: July 10, 2007
Finally freed from their major label shackles, Orange County’s ska kings Reel Big Fish return with their first truly independent album since 1995’s Everything Sucks. In the intervening twelve years, Aaron, Scott and Co. have written song after song – from their breakout (and some say, only) hit “Sell Out” to just about every track on their last release, We’re Not Happy ‘Til You’re Not Happy – deriding the very industry that pumped out their albums. One could only imagine that, having finally escaped from their major label tyranny, Reel Big Fish would just be itching to let loose with one final bombardment against the suits that jerked their chain for so many years.
A funny thing happened on the way to the recording studio, however. Once the pressure of recording for a major label was lifted, the boys discovered that they really didn’t have anything to be angry about anymore. The result is Monkeys for Nothin’ and the Chimps for Free – a play on words of a line in the chorus of the Dire Straits song “Money For Nothing” (which also takes a dig at the music establishment) – and also one of the finest, if not only, ska releases of 2007.
Monkeys for Nothin’ and the Chimps for Free is variously irreverent, laid back, jovial, and, most importantly, fun. In short, it is everything that We’re Not Happy isn’t. There’s no bitterness here, no anger, no tedium – listening to We’re Not Happy, it’s clear the band members just weren’t enjoying themselves for much of the recording process. If you saw them live around the release of We're Not Happy, you’d know what I mean. Hence the title of that particular release, I suppose.
But as the opener (and lead single) of Monkeys for Nothin’ and the Chimps for Free “Party Down” shows, Reel Big Fish aren’t pissed anymore. The title says it all: they’re here to party. From a signature Aaron Barrett hook to a slick horn line to delightfully gaudy backing vocals courtesy of one Mr. Scott Klopfenstein, the song has everything fans have come to expect from one of the most fun bands around. They even take a page from the live version of “S.R.” for the chorus – long time fans will know what I mean.
“Another F.U. Song” is absolutely classic Reel Big Fish, and sure to be an instant live standard as well, as its inclusion in the band’s current set list can attest. Songs like “Everybody’s Drunk” and “Please Don’t Tell Her I Have A Girlfriend” bring to mind the best of Turn the Radio Off and Why Do They Rock So Hard? – cheeky lyrics, epic choruses, and a healthy dose of sheer, infectious fun. Just try not to sing along in the car, or after a few cold ones (but, please, not both). Just try.
The album also shows the guys turning over a new leaf. Or, as I see it, continuing with the same turn that they began on Cheer Up! – what I consider to be their most accomplished album. “Slow Down” and “Will The Revolution Come?” are mellower – think second wave, not third – and perhaps more sincere than many of the songs the band have written in the past. Ditto for the last two tracks – “Til I Hit The Ground” and “Cannibal” – which I consider two of the best tracks in the bands oeuvre. These songs are an infusion of the irreverence that made the band famous and the polished songwriting prowess that they have developed over the last twelve-plus years.
The album isn’t all highlights, however. Tracks like “Live Your Dream” and “My Imaginary Friend” could have been written by the band ten or twelve years ago and are in stark contrast to the other new tracks discussed above. Interestingly, they also pale in comparison to the re-recorded versions of some tracks the band did record ten or twelve years ago – veteran fans will recall such classics as “Hate You” and “Why Do All Girls Think They’re Fat” from Everything Sucks. The new versions sound much better than the old, and are just as vivacious.
All in all, there’s a lot to love about Monkeys for Nothin’ and the Chimps for Free. Great new tracks, updated versions of old favorites, guitar solos, plenty of horns – even the title itself is on the shortlist for best album title of the year. The guys also continue their tradition of unique covers – their version of Phil Collins’ “Another Day in Paradise” is nothing short of amazing. It goes without saying that this is a must-have for the two or three dozen ska fans left. For non-ska fans, well, it’s still okay to have fun when listening to music, right? Reel Big Fish’s latest might not get you up and skankin’ (and please god, don’t), but it will at least get you to crack a smile. Embrace fun, people. If only for the kids.
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