Bad Manners have a unique position in the world of ska. Of all the bands to come to prominence during the late 70s/early 80s 2Tone era, they were the only one that never broke up, and never moved their sound away from ska. Sure, the Specials and Madness get all the attention, but by the time they broke up, they had long since stopped writing ska tunes. Bad Manners persevere to this day, though, making them the longest continuously running show in ska. Given this history (and the fact that I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the 2Tone era), I was really excited to review their first album on the Moon Ska label, Heavy Petting.
Unfortunately, the record is pretty uneven. While throughout the record the myriad musicians (nearly every track seems to have a different band lineup) show a lot of talent, Heavy Petting sounds way overproduced in a lot of places, causing some songs to just fizzle out. It’s even hard to place the blame on one producer, as there are also different producers on almost every track, and each carries as many hits as misses. While the record opens strong with the horn-driven “Don’t Knock the Baldheads” and a cover of Deep Purple’s (!) “Black Night,” it putzes out somewhere in the middle of “Down Berry Wood” (which starts great, but loses its way mid-stream), and doesn’t pick up steam again until another cover, the obscure Monkees tune “Randy Scouse Git,” eight tracks in. In the interim, there are three tracks that sound completely weak, and a fourth, the title track, that had some fun, slightly dirty possibilities until the atrocious female backing vocals kicked in.
That’s not to say that the record doesn’t have some shining moments, though. The punchy instrumentals “Red River Ska” and “Lager Delirium” stand up proud and strong, the reggae-esque “Liverpool and Birmingham” is a smooth jam, and “Feel Like Jumping” will make you do just that. The problem is for every track of that sort, there’s a “Go,” which will make you want to do just that. I can’t help that feel that one, cohesive band and one strong producer would have made Heavy Petting a record to be reckoned with. I’d love to see what these guys would accomplish with Rob Hingley or King Django producing. Still, I’d rather have an uneven Bad Manners record than no Bad Manners at all, and I’m certainly glad to see them still at it. Moon Ska Records, PO Box 1412, New York, NY 10276, http://www.moonska.com