May 6, 2021 The Mighty Mighty BossToneS – When God Was Great (Album Review)
Much as Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi are proud natives of New Jersey and we all know it, The Mighty Mighty BossToneS forever wear a self-styled geotag on their sleeves. Not shy to share their pride in being born and bred Massholes, the titans of Ska Punk are back with When God Was Great, which arrives on Friday, May 7, 2021 thanks to Hellcat Records, an imprint of Epitaph Records.
This might be the group’s debut for Hellcat, but they are far from novices when it comes to writing and recording music. Formed in 1983 in, of course, Boston, they would deliver their debut disc, Devil’s Night Out, in 1989, and go on to a successful career in music. Still here and still standing while many of their contemporaries cannot say the same, the talented nonet has consistently delivered new material throughout the past 38 years, ten albums in total, including 1992’s More Noise and Other Disturbances, 1997’s Let’s Face It (which contained the hit-single “The Impression That I Get”), 2002’s A Jackknife to a Swan and 2011’s The Magic of Youth, to name but a few.
So what’s a batch of prolific professional punks to do during a pandemic? Write new music, of course. Thus, three years after the release of 2018’s While We’re At It, The Mighty Mighty BossToneS are back with When God Was Great. Their 11th studio offering, the 15-song album sees The BossToneS—Vocalist Dicky Barrett, Guitarist Lawrence Katz, Bassist Joe Gittleman, Drummer Joe Sirois, Keyboardist John Goetchius, Saxophonists Tim “Johnny Vegas” Burton and Leon Silva, Trombonist Chris Rhodes, and Percussionist/Dancer Ben Carr—continuing to embrace the joyous Ska Punk sound that they helped to pioneer.
Co-produced by longtime collaborator Ted Hutt (The Gaslight Anthem, Dropkick Murphys) and Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong, who also runs Hellcat Records, the disc is the culmination of their extensive and all-embracing career and sees the band bringing back friends, tourmates, and bandmates—such as Founding Guitarist Nate Albert and Saxophonist Roman Fleysher—as well as family members, to formulate a sonic celebration that stresses the power of perseverance and human connection in these complicated times.
This sense of triumph in the face of what feels like insurmountable odds is present in the room from the first notes of When God Was Great, as the band tackles the thumping “Decide.” Setting a joyful Ska pace, Burton, Silva, and Rhodes’ brass serves as the perfect complement to Barrett’s vocals as he asks listeners, “Should we cash in or should we let it ride? Will this be sanctioned or be nullified?“ This urge to make a solid move toward our collective future is a topical theme that is revisited throughout the record as The BossToneS explore a myriad of timely discussions.
But first it’s party time as we “M O V E” out of the city to experience life for ourselves in “You Had to Be There.” Despite many of the songs initially appearing to be upbeat, there’s often a somber quality to their lyrical reminiscence, from the loneliest moments of childhood (“Lonely Boy”) to the bitter sweetness of staring into the eyes of our former, carefree selves (“When God Was Great”). These are pieces of the most tender moments, musically speaking, a list that includes the fragile ballad “Certain,” as well as a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Long As I Can See the Light,” featuring slide guitar and Barrett’s children singing.
However, much of When God Was Great sits somewhere in the middle of the starkly serious and the joyfully emotional, like the midtempo “What It Takes.” But the most powerful moments come when The BossToneS offer up their life lessons alongside partisan-free sociopolitical commentary in tracks like “The Truth Hurts,” “I Don’t Want To Be You,” and “The Killing of Georgie (Part III).” Despite being centered around “a pain that we cannot forget,” the murder of George Floyd, the latter offering, much like its subject matter, is inherently emotional. There’s an upbeat vibe to the music that belies this, but it’s one that is filled with hope. For “one day this nation will rise up and it will live up to its creed.”
Therefore, “Bruised,” an acknowledgment of all this pain and frustration, one that includes a cameo from Madball’s Freddy Circien, stands as the perfect anthem for 2021 as we admit to our scars but pledge our perseverance. And if for some reason the song doesn’t get you fired up, well, The BossToneS end When God Was Great with “The Final Parade,” a nearly eight-minute-long “love letter” to Ska that sees former bandmates, tourmates, friends and family joining the nonet for the ultimate victory lap. Complete with contributions from Tim Armstrong, Aimee Allen and The Interrupters, Jake Burns (Stiff Little Fingers), Angelo Moore (Fishbone) Jay Navarro (Suicide Machines), Jimmy G (Murphy’s Law), Christian Jacobs (The Aquabats), John Feldmann (Goldfinger), Steve Jackson (The Pietasters), Jet Baker (Buster Shuffle), Laila Khan (Sonic Boom Six) and Stranger Cole, plus members of H20 and Less Than Jake, the track allows the band to close out their eleventh disc by skankin’ across the globe.
You know what you’re getting with The Mighty Mighty BossToneS and When God Was Great is no different. Full of the peppy, socially conscious Ska Punk that put the band on the map and has kept them in our hearts for nearly 40 years now, it is composed of love and sorrow, determination and frustration, but always with the most tender of respect for the music that provides us all with an escape. It is, too, a reminder that we are all the same: flawed and fragile beings who are meant for heartfelt connection and not violent division. In this, The BossToneS set the ball rolling for this world to skank toward unity on When God Was Great. For this, Cryptic Rock gives the Mighty Mighty BossToneS’ latest 4 of 5 stars.