The Slackers | Self Medication
Most Likely To: be illegally downloaded out of curiosity.
For those who remember the release of Better Late Than Never, The Slackers’ influential first record, it is discomfiting to realize that twelve years have passed since that debut. In the time since then, the so called third wave ska revival blossomed and burst on a timeline roughly synchronous to the dot com bubble.
Although like-minded revivalists Hepcat made a good run of it, there is no doubting that The Slackers have proven to be the signature act of the movement, not only escaping it intact but continuing to record albums for a shrinking but dedicated following. Self Medication marks the New York City group’s seventh full-length, their on first a new label after successful stretches with the Moon Ska and Hellcat labels (the latter an Epitaph subsidiary under the aegis of Rancid’s Tim Armstrong).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the move to a new label does not herald an analogous change in musical direction. Listeners who have heard the last handful of Slackers albums will know what to expect heading into Self Medication: a couple spirited takes on Jamaican ska, a song or two with touches of golden era rock ‘n roll, and a few dubby tracks augmented by eerie synth noodling, and the balance comprised of updated takes on mid-tempo rocksteady and roots reggae tunes. It’s a formula the band settled on with the release of their third record, The Question, after understanding that the first wave homage perpetuated on their first two albums–while marvelously executed–would only take them so far.
In this case, however, being formulaic is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, anyone who puts on a dub record from 1978 or a collection of ska tracks from 1965 knows exactly what they’re getting. They are listening not because they want to be surprised but because they are fans of the sound. Moreover, with The Slackers you know you’ve got Vic Ruggiero, the best reggae organist this side of Jackie Mittoo, and Dave Hillyard, the most exciting saxophonist to record a rocksteady track in forty years.
If there is one, the surprise on Self Medication comes in the form of “Stars,” a number more in touch with late era Beatles than anything happening in Jamaica at that time. The disarmingly sweet ballad is as crazy as things get in the way of experimentation, with the skinhead reggae groove of the opening “Every Day Is Sunday” constituting the norm. The latter features a Motown flavored bridge about halfway through that serves as a punchy appetizer.
“Don’t You Want A Man” rides hard on the downbeats with Ruggiero’s organ, a funky detail The Slackers perfected years ago on “Watch This.” The Latin tinged horns on the trim ska workout “Leave Me” are a deft touch, while Glen Pine’s vocals and arrangements on “Eviction” perfectly capture the spirit of ’77 and the early recordings of Culture and The Mighty Diamonds. In the end, the title track is the stickiest. Its hollow bass palpitations, mellow strut, and chorus harmonies make it memorable upon first listen.
Self Medication is a success insofar as it is bound to keep The Slackers’ audience satisfied and is a thoroughly enjoyable set of material along the lines of what we’ve come to expect from the band. It doesn’t rival the excellence of their first two records but it does show the act continue to chart their own course on a sea that has swallowed all of their contemporaries.