With expectations suitably lowered by the folly of lead single and bad Madness sound-alike Boys Will Be Boys, things didn’t look good for The Ordinary Boys‘ Brassbound; the scene set for a band partaking in a frankly embarrassing trawl through the arse end of fan boy ska commemoration.
But it isn’t. There are enormous missteps, the calypso swing of On An Island and the cover of Rudi’s In Love (another point where their homage becomes slavish) that, in conjunction with that single, make a triumvirate of obvious mistakes – but elsewhere things are bright, poppy and smart.
Thoreau says ‘Simplify, simplify’ and when The Boys do, allowing their focus to fall on the songs rather than partaking in what feels like simple acts of reverence toward their references, they are a far more interesting package. It’s no coincidence that most of the better tracks on the album are the ones not fighting to stay afloat in a sea of skanking guitars or blowhard brass.
Like the breezy pop-jangle of Thanks To The Girl, given depth and dimension by a Morrissey‘esque, spurned lover lyric and topped with a chorus that is biliously spat out; Or One Step Forward (Two Steps Back), rattling along with eloquent exasperation at modern day malcontent (something that The Jam were always big on) and Red Letter Day, melancholic, morose and the most musically interesting thing on the record.
They also, occasionally, come up with something that breathes life into the corpse of that ska template: Call To Arms parps along on a rude-boy horn section, but is more of a proper update than a simple act of musical re-appropriation – it’s as close as they come to revising the outlines they trace elsewhere. It also has the kind of fist in the air camaraderie (“We will endeavour/same as ever/to stand for no shit whatsoever!”) that sums up the Ordinary Boys’ rabid fan base.
Lead singer Preston has come a long way as a writer. Now he’s not trying so hard to, not just do justice to his influences but to actually be Paul Weller, he’s developing into someone kind of cross between Mozza and Billy Bragg; a cynic/romantic, politicised, English wit.
Which is a fantastic proposition, and should give us hope that The Ordinary Boys can make a truly great record. This isn’t quite it, but it’s not far off. On paper, the ‘Summer Of Ska’ was a dreadful proposition, but if we can expect more records that approach the quality of Brassbound, then it isn’t anywhere near as heinous as had been feared.