First off, this is one big band! Twenty musicians contribute to this release, although I don’t think they all appear at the same time! The numbers involved have helped create a collection of tunes that display a great deal of variety and musical inventiveness.
They’re also from New Zealand, a country that’s about as far away from mine as it’s possible to get on a spherical planet. This fact alone was enough to get me sending a few of my hard-earned pounds literally half way around the world. What, I wondered, would Antipodean ska sound like exactly?
Turns out that it has much in common with any other well-produced ska. It straddles the second generation Two Tone ska sound and early third generation punky ska with that all-important nod to the original rudeboy vibe running through it all, and The Managers do it very well indeed. Everything is superbly executed and the band are an obviously talented bunch. The fact that they are able to play around so well with tempo and melody keeps your interest up through the whole album and you have to keep reminding yourself that it’s the same band you’re listening to.
The opening track, Capt. Ska, is 99% instrumental and a great way to start, recalling a cranked-up Bad Manners on a Nutty Boy trip with a large dash of modern ska complexity thrown in, something that could be said about quite a few of the tunes here, and it sets the (two-)tone for what follows.
Some of the songs get to grips with those classic ska staples of love lost and found, all having a different take on the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of romance. Sometimes the ska saves the day, dragging you out of the door and on to the dance floor, sometimes it’s just the tune playing in the background as your world falls apart, but it’s always there waiting for you, for when you’re ready to put your boots back on. ‘Infiltraitor’ in particular makes good use of the female vocals, harking back to The Selecter and taking to task the two-timing toughboys who think it’s cool to cheat on your girl. ‘My Mistake’ sees upbeat tunes backing a tale of regret, at times almost sounding like the Muppet Show house band (in a good way), while ‘Out Of Breath’ takes the more traditional down-tempo reggae route to express similar feelings.
While it’s true to say that many of the tunes here are about either affaires d’amour or dancing (or both), The Managers aren’t afraid to take on heavier topics too. ‘Charge!’ is a minor key rail against the madness of war, pointing out the fascistic mindset that underpins those who would have us fight and kill each other for their privilege and power. ‘Killing En Masse’ deals with a different kind of slaughter, that commited by bloodthirsty hunters who exterminate our wildlife for kicks. A hardcore vegan sensibility is not something you generally find in your average ska release, but The Managers appreciate the beauty inherent in all life and make their point well with the simple line ‘we are right and you are wrong’. Now that’s an attitude I can relate to.
If you like the kind of stuff put out on Asian Man, then there’s no way you won’t like this. And how many other New Zealand ska records have you got sitting on your shelf anyway?
Download sample track – ‘Infiltraitor’
OP’s opinion: @@@@
(© Lindy Hickman)
NB: The Manager’s second album ‘Take It Or Leave It’ is out around now. That will be a welcome addition to my NZ ska collection, as well as doubling the size of it.