The Toasters - Enemy of the System
Release Date: 2002
Record Label: Asian Man Records
Widely recognized as one of the most significant American ska bands to date, The Toasters worked to popularize the ska scene on the underground in the mid-80's, before the genre exploded years later in the 90's. Hailing from New York City, The Toasters had been performing for live audiences for nearly a decade prior to the said uprising, and have steadily been releasing record after record of the highest quality, two-tone driven ska ever since. With their 2002 release via Asian Man Records (who the band moved to after the downfall of frontman Rob Hingley's Moon Ska NYC label), Enemy of the System, The Toasters are back with their latest full-length offering, which although shows little diversity amongs the rest of the bands extensive discography, still proves to be a worthwhile, danceable collection of 14 (you'll find two tracks hidden after the listed running time) upbeat ska flavoured reggae tunes.
The record opens with "Skafinger", which turns out to the be one of the albums weaker tracks. Although The Toasters are perfectly level with what listeners would come to expect here, it's proves quite difficult to find enough here to provide enjoyment past the first and second listen, while lyrically consisting of virtually no more than the words 'ska' and 'finger'. "Enemy of the System", the records title track, on the other hand is a jaunty, infectious blend of previous Toasters experiences, while serving as a perfect showcase for the bands bright, crisp horn section. The Toasters slow down the tempo, for at least the first minute of the song, on "Dog Eat Dog" the records third track. Although, as previously mentioned, it shows little diversity amongst the content on past releases, listeners in search of a upbeat driven skank will be pleasently surprised. On "Pirate Radio", you're launched into a relatively slow, relaxing drift, one which would not sound out of place on the radio in the years of ones early childhood. Consequently, lyrically the song is a first-hand account of Hingley's experiences with the radio in past times. "Sweet Home Town Jamaica" shows The Toasters throw their own flair on Lynard Skynard's classic "Sweet Home Alabama". Vocal duties this time around are taken up by Jack Ruby Jr., Hingley's right-hand man. Ruby Jr. spices up the song quite nicely with his own stylish reggae flavour, giving the song an almost entirely different feel, precisely reminiscent of early Jamaican ska.
Skipping ahead to the records eight track, "Why Oh Why", we reach one track listeners might want to consult the liner notes for the lyrics, if they plan on singing along with the prominent vocals of Ruby Jr. It's sort of amazing how The Toasters manage to present an album containing songs from two seperate ends of the bar. Musically, both Hingley and Ruby Jr.'s songs sound similar in nearly every way, but it's the signature, standout voices of each that split the album in two. "Pendulum" is another satisfying dose of Hingley's soothing voice, placed appropriately alongside a summery, tropical arrangement of upbeats and brass. "Barney", the records second tongue twister, appears to be a sort of tribute to Barney Rubble, who the band carefully describes as "the wickedest rudie of them all"; according to the liner notes. "If You Loved Me", the closing track (or so the tracklist says), is a quirky, buoyant display of what The Toasters do best; blend together truthful lyrics about the ups and downs of life today, situated amongst bouncy melodies that will make you dance.
Overall, the most recent offering from New York City's finest turns out to be an appealing collection of the danceable gems that ska fans crave. While certain tracks don't quite live up to the standards set by others, and the album isn't quite as effective as 1997's release of Don't Let The Bastards Grind You Down, Enemy of the System gives listeners every reason to believe that ska isn't dead, and that The Toasters are alive and kicking.