As if any more proof were needed, here’s an excellent example of why Skinnerbox are easily one of the best ska bands around. Demonstration is an “odds and ends” record, comprised of covers, compilation tracks, and stuff that otherwise hasn’t made its way onto a Skinnerbox album proper. Usually, records of this nature are fairly boring, and just don’t work as anything other than a curiosity for fans. That’s far from the case here. Demonstration is one of the most compelling records of the year — it’s been practically glued into my CD player since it arrived — and what’s more, it works as a cohesive album.
King Django and company once again demonstrate their ability to write and play drastically different styles of ska-oriented music with equal adeptness. Original tunes vary broadly, running the gamut from the mod style of the opening “Trying to Be Cool” to the mellow and very seasonal-sounding closer, “Happy New Year.” The now-famous DJ-style of “Hepcat Season” is here, as is its B-side, the melodic “I’ve Got to Know,” which features drop-dead gorgeous harmonies, and the best lyrical metaphor for sex-on-the-sly I’ve ever heard (“If I throw my lolly/ In your cotton candy”). Another tune that’s sure to sound familiar to Skinnerbox fans is “Heat,” a collaboration with Toasters frontman Jack Ruby, Jr., which builds on an older Skinnerbox tune, the brilliant “Nex Finga.” Other original highlights include the punky thrash of “Kind of Sad,” the rave-up R&B of “Goodbye & Good Life,” and “Ska, Punk & Disorderly,” another mod-flavored track.
These eight tunes alone would make a fine album, but Skinnerbox sweeten the pot with an eclectic set of six cover tunes, which further pays testament to their diverse nature. Few bands could hope to pull off a transition from the Stooges’ pre-punk classic “No Fun” to the original Jamaican ska of Stranger Cole’s “Uno, Dos, Tres,” but Skinnerbox do it with grace. The jump blues flavor of “You Rascal, You” (an old standard popularized by Cab Calloway) shares space with a brilliant version of the Jam’s “Billy Hunt” (which slowly shifts in tempo cranks up in tempo from a nice reggae riddim to the mod-era pace of the original) and the smoky cocktail-hour jazz of “A Fine Romance” (made famous by Billie Holiday). The capper, though, is a sterling cover of “Straight To Hell,” done for (but inexplicably left off from) the upcoming Clash tribute album. Skinnerbox’s version builds on the reggae feel of the original, adding haunting horns, a ringing glockenspiel, and lush harmonies, achieving what I’d have thought otherwise impossible — actually improving on a Clash song!
“Straight To Hell” might be the brightest highlight on a record full of high points. Demonstration is a fantastic album and a vital addition to any collection. No small accomplishment for an “odds and ends” collection! Triple Crown Records, 331 West 57th #472, New York, NY 10019