The year was just about over, and I figured that it was time to draw up a list of the Top 10 ska albums of the year, reasoning that this late in the game, there would be no more real challengers. Then the Slackers snuck in the back door with The Question, 19 tracks that blew away most – if not all – of the rest of the list. Be prepared, because this record is going to knock your socks off, as the Slackers set a groove that can’t be denied, and take chances that pay off at every turn.
The groove is steady on The Question, giving the record a unifying feel that’s all Slackers. That’s not to say that the record is monotonous, though – just the opposite. The Slackers take that groove and experiment with it, exploring all the different ways they can stretch it. For example, there’s the East Indian feel of “Mountainside,” complete with sitar – not a sound you’d expect out of a bunch of boys from New York City, but it works. Then there’s the deep and dirty soul of “The Mummy,” on which Victor Ruggiero’s growling, gravelly lead vocals sound dangerous and forbidden, making it all the more irresistible. They take off in another direction with the easy Latin shuffle of the album-opening “Manuel,” which is spicier than a burrito and twice as tasty, and still another on the fun drunken sing-along “Have The Time.” The mod ’60s sound of “And I Wonder?” and the smoky lullaby “No More Crying” are worlds apart, but each reaps the benefits of an absolutely gorgeous Dave Hillyard sax solo. “Feed My Girl” has a loping, reggae feel with beautiful harmonies and easy call and response trade-offs on the choruses between Ruggiero and Marq Lyn, and segues neatly at the end into a few bars of “Run Away” from their now-classic debut record. You’ll also encounter the classic ska feel of “Motor City,” the sweet doo-wop inspired harmonies of “The Question” (immediately followed by a just-as-interesting sparser reggae version, with skilled toasting over the top), and the scathing ’60s soul of “Face in My Crowd,” among other treats. Each track is new and fresh and different, yet still feels like the Slackers – it’s as though each song was a precious gem of a different color.
Simply put, the Slackers don’t make a single misstep on this record. The Question is about as close to perfect as it gets. The only real question you need to ask yourself is why you haven’t gone out and bought this brilliant album yet. Hellcat Records, 2798 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026; http://www.hell-cat.com