I’m working on my unified field theory on why some things suck but other things very similar in sound, design, appearance, function, etc. rock total bells. It’s very slow going and still in the outline stage. Probably because there’s a lot of stuff that sucks.
Tucson’s Warsaw Poland Bros. do not suck. In fact, they’re pretty damn good. Really damn good at what they do. So there’s a bug that needs working out in my critical framework right there, because I think we’re all perfectly within our rights to expect a band from Tucson that plays ska and reggae to suck. Specifically, for them to deliver a watered-down, unimaginative, paint-by-numbers version of both. Not simply because they’re from Tucson, rather because ska and reggae are among the most glibly misappropriated, carelessly miscegenated styles of music out there. Show me a band making the rounds of party towns, and I’ll lay a fiver that one of their “both types of music” is lame-ass reggae. And come on, ska and reggae historically have about as much to do with Tucson—or Missoula, for that matter—as polar bears.
Oh, see, here we go. My theory-in-progress includes a number of little fascist clauses about who is historically entitled to play which kinds of music, mostly a matter of taste and a preference for the originals over the legions of imitators. Call me a bringdown, man, but one Bob Marley and the Wailers or whoever was enough for me. I really don’t need one more bunch of skinny white kids poking and prodding me until I give up my irie. Or, by the same token, the same bunch of white kids minus the collegiate dreads in skinny braces and porkpie hats telling me to pick it up, pick it up. Pick what up? You’re the one who put it down, dude. I’m especially wary of ska and reggae as a jumping-off point for bands to try out their punk-rock chops.
Bands who make a big show of running the stylistic gamut like that always remind me of the punk bands that everyone used to like just because they could play a little of everything and make it all sound like a joke.
So yeah, well, it was looking pretty grim for the Warsaw Poland Bros. What bounced them out of the slush pile and into the Top Ten for me was their naughty sense of humor. Their 2001 release, Pimpin’ on Crutches, is pretty spicy stuff, with lots of discomfiting comparisons between oral sex and eating cold cuts, things like that.
Mostly juvenile and funny in a locker-room way, but with a high enough goofball factor to keep it from getting too tedious. “Computer,” for example, is a peppy little number with punk-rock chords about a guy who downloads a bunch of nudie pics from the “cybergeek of his dreams” before finding out that “she was only sweet 16.”
Scattered around the 18 other songs on the album are a couple of nice surprises, including the Bros.’ genuinely (almost) bittersweet ode to, apparently, their state’s geriatrics. “Wouldn’t you like to come and die in Tucson?” croon vocalists Double A and Crix in a very nice harmony and over, yes, a reggae beat. “Wouldn’t you like to die alone?” Don’t get out that hanky yet, though, ‘cause “The doctors are tripping and the nurses are bitches.”
I predict that the Warsaw Poland Bros. will explode live, and don’t think I don’t know that all you squinty, baby-field-mouse-faced new students at the U are going to be checking out the scene this week no matter who’s playing. I think the first show I ever saw in Missoula, back when cats and dogs were still friends and I was a freshman, was a reggae band called Psycotazia. Horrible name, I know. The guitarist thought he was in Living Colour and the rest of the guys thought they were in Steel Pulse, plus they were falling-down drunk the whole time. And it was great! Just goes to show: You never know what’s going to suck and what’s going to rock.