With a name meaning “fat guys” in British slang, there is no telling what you might get from the currently eight piece Pietasters. Loosely formed in 1990 as a punk cover band, it wasn’t long before they found there was more fun to be had in covering tunes from the likes of ska biggies The Specials and Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Ska, for those of you who are unfamiliar is known for its walking bass lines with horn riffs and a general mentality of drinking, fun-loving, and rebellion. It is also considered a precursor to reggae.
Founded in part by Stephen Jackson, who remains their vocalist today, The Pietasters released their first studio album, eponymous in name but often referred to as Piestomp. On the Slugtone label, I contend that this is still their best album to date. It has some of their catchiest tunes, their most energetic numbers, rife with the feeling and soul of true ska, and darn it, “Little Engine” is just one of my favorite songs ever.
By 1997 The Pietasters had hit indie band heaven, signing on to Hellcat, a brand new sub-label of Epitaph, created by Tim Armstrong of Rancid. Alongside touring giants and Celtic-punk band Dropkick Murphys, it was a huge move for the band and resulted in their most commercially successful album, Willis.
So here we are – seventeen years, five albums, and 14 band members later. The Pietasters are back with a sixth studio album, this time recorded with Indication Records.
I was super stoked on getting this album into my CD player the minute it hit my doorstep, hoping for some classic inspired Pietasters that would rock at their high energy live shows, one of which I was to be attending the next week.
I have to say, and it pains me to do so, All Day is not the album I was hoping, nay assuming, it would be. Much more pared down than many previous Pietasters albums, All Day is heavily seasoned with Motown, early ska, and reggae influences. There is much less of the punk-rock sensibility that many of the original members seemed to impart, and I wonder if it is the relatively newer lineup that influenced this change.
Don’t get me wrong. This is a good album if you are expecting ska set in the early years of the genre. But if you love the old days of The Pietasters, when they were experimenting with the sounds of punk, ska, rock, with a dash of the Murphys thrown in, then this will by no means be your favorite album by this band.
Like all of their efforts, All Day sounds as if it was recorded in someone’s basement, a quality that only seems to enhance ska music. It’s like you are at a jam session and someone just happened to turn on a microphone.
The opening track, “Change My Ways,” is the most Motown inspired and I like it a great deal. The 30 second intro of horns is completely hummable and Stephen Jackson’s vocals are as good as they have ever been.
I was excited to see a song called “Triflin,” as it sounded like the kind of title that could indicate a brash romp that only The Pietasters can do so well. Sadly, it is more reggae than ska and completely 100% forgettable.
And unfortunately, that is the theme of this album – forgettable, which is shocking for a band that has created some of the most memorable songs I have ever loved. There is no “Dollar Bill,” no “Night Owl,” and most certainly no “Maggie Mae.”
But amongst the humdrum, there are a couple of gems. “Fozzy (Part 1)” has some perfectly offbeat keyboard refrains and Jorge Pezzimenti’s bass is at its head-bopping best.
I also really love “Oolooloo” (which fans will recognize as the title of an earlier album). Starting off with “Another round for the good time/we all have had,” it is an irreverent anthem that will be a blast to sing along with and is probably the best song here. And make sure you catch Alan Makranczy’s saxophone as the song fades out. It is masterful.
While not my favorite type of Pietasters music, they are still a very talented group. Their recordings have never done justice to the genius of their music, and their live shows are not to be missed. While I missed the show in my area due to unexpected company, here’s hoping that All Day will benefit from the soul and passion these guys exhibit on stage.