Saturday, June 23, 2012

June 23: Bad Manners, "Bad Manners"

Artist: Bad Manners
Album: Bad Manners
Year: 1981
Label: MCA

Though it is one of the most common occurrences across the entire history of recorded music, there are few things as frustrating as when bands begin to take themselves too seriously.  While there are certainly groups that have made massive social impact, there is a point when you can see a band "forget" how much fun it is to actually BE in a band, and when this loss of perspective occurs, it is the music that suffers.  In many ways, this is one of the most enjoyable things about the ska genre, in the fact that at its base, it is about having a good time and creating an upbeat, positive mood.  Even when ska groups are singing about more sober or painful ideas, there is still the almost oddly optimistic feel that underscores the song through the music and mood.  Among the many great ska bands that displayed this idea, there were few that embodied the idea of pure fun better than Bad Manners, and to this day, their songs can still ignite a room and completely change ones' mood.  Throughout the tail-end of the 1970's and the early 1980's, Bad Manners released a number of singles and albums, all filled with their trademark style, and though they often bordered on the line of "silly," there is no denying the almost intoxicating mood that comes through in almost every one of their songs.  Following what many see as their breakthrough single and a handful of EP's, Bad Manners released their first album in the US, and the self-titled 1981 record combined their finest two releases.

Bad Manners is a compilation of sorts, with the entirety of their Ska N B and Loonie Toons records being
brought together to give an overall representation of the band.  Across these two albums, one can quickly understand just why the group had such a devoted following, as the energy on their songs are second to none.  Whether it is classic tracks like "Lorraine" and "Ne-Ne Na-Na Na-Na Nu-Nu," or their take on "Wooly Bully," there isn't a moment anywhere on Bad Manners that is anything short of fantastic.  It is the way that the horn sections are so perfectly in sync with the rhythm that allows the group to quickly captivate the listener, and the range in tempo and overall sound that they show is far beyond that of a majority of their peers.  Trumpet player Paul Hyman, along with the sax duo of Chris Kane and Andrew Marson offer a perfect balance in every sense of the word throughout the album, as they are able to give what are often largely sparse musical arrangements an amazing amount of depth and movement.  It is also the way in which both drummer Brian Tuitt, as well as guitarist Louis Cook deliver solid performances on every track, yet manage to not dominate the other players that gives these songs a unique balance, and it is this musical equality that enables the entire album to become so much larger than the sum of its parts.

However, while one cannot overlook the spirited and upbeat performance of the musicians, the soul of Bad Manners was always contained within the voice and vocals of Buster Bloodvessel (AKA Douglas Trendle).  There are few singers from any genre that have as instantly recognizable a voice as one finds here, and on tracks like "Lorraine," one can experience both sides of his vocal personality.  For a majority of the album, Bloodvessel does little more than speak with a touch of pitch, and yet there is an intriguing sincerity and "every man" tone to his voice that sets him far apart from most of his peers.  One gets the sense that he is much like a friend, venting his frustrations, and it is this attitude that further endeared itself to fans across the globe.  Yet it is the other side of Bloodvessel's performance style that turned him into such a legend, as his almost comic-like, light-spirited vocal shift that occurs on many of the songs, making them almost instantly unforgettable.  Though there is a slight level of "silly" within many of these vocal moments, one can also hear it as a defense mechanism as he pours his heart out about the most evil of women, among a wide range of topics.  The juxtaposition he creates with the lines, "...Lorraine she took everything, even my brand new engagement ring...she took the car and went to town, but now she can no longer be found..." is absolutely fantastic, and it is Buster Bloodvessel's ability to create these contrasts that makes "Lorraine" in particular such a brilliant recording.

The reality is that Bad Manners had already established themselves as one of the finest and most unique groups of the ska-revival sound by the time that the compilation album, Bad Manners, hit shelves in the US.  The versions found on this record are the exact same as the original UK releases, and along with a handful of other groups, Bad Manners carved out an amazingly upbeat and powerful place in music history.  Whether it is through the original two albums or on this collected set, regardless of "how" one experiences the music of Bad Manners, it is clear that they were unlike any other ska band at the time, mostly in the fact that one can sense the level of tongue-in-cheek humor within a majority of their songs. It is this reality, as well as the overall energy of the band that makes them impossible to compare to another, as well as making their songs outright irresistible.   From titles and lyrics that were little more than gibberish to the larger than life personality of Buster Bloodvessel, Bad Manners remain one of the most wonderfully unique bands in all of music history.  Representing the band at the peak of their powers, as well as offering an introduction not only to their own sound, but the ska style in general, there are few records as bright and in many ways joyously raw as one can experience all across the collected set of songs that is Bad Manners' 1981 self-titled US release.

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