If you enjoy fun music, you likely enjoy Less Than Jake. For well over two decades, the ska-punk veterans have been releasing their lively brand of horn-filled rock, touring the world and getting fans jumping and skanking wherever they go. But what does a group like this do when faced with a year like 2020?
On their latest album Silver Linings, Less Than Jake stick fairly close to the musical formula that has led to their longevity, but mine deeper personal drama in their lyrics than ever before. Reflecting the struggles we all have (especially this year) with depression, anxiety, insecurity and employment, the tracks here juxtapose their serious subject matter with the expected jubilant energy that listeners have come to expect from LTJ.
Listening to the album, it’s clear the band still want you to blast it LOUD. The guitars and drums come banging in at the outset on “The High Cost of Low Living”, and are soon overshadowed by the ever-present horn section. While the song has some playful allusions (“Got the devil on my shoulder, I’m going out tonight”), there’s a darker undercurrent here about the sacrifices we make to get by and find an acceptable life for ourselves (“Trying to make a living, maybe not living right, but I found my paradise”).
First single “Lie to Me” is more outward looking, storming in with the prescient opening line “What’s wrong with the world today?” Over a memorably bouncy melody, the group seems to be looking for a way for people to stay united as the present continues to divide (“Tell me there’s more that connects us than the days we left behind”). While the band tries to avoid becoming too emotional on songs, it’s hard not to glean some melancholy in Chris DeMakes’ voice in “Keep on Chasing”, which certainly works for the song’s benefit. And it does nothing to temper the catchiness of the spitfire track.
The darkest, dare I say most “emo” song here is “The Test”, a grittier fist-pumper, as the song’s narrator pleads to a loved one to “Tell me when you see the version of me, the person you want me to be”. Coming from a place of vulnerability, there’s a moodier vibe to the verses and an immediacy to the chorus that urges listeners to internalize every moment.
Looking at other song titles (“Monkey Wrench Myself”, “King of the Downside”), one might think the rest of the album will be a downer, but that’s not in LTJ’s musical vocabulary. The former track comes firing out with machine gun drumming, and great interplay between the guitars and horns, and the latter has a sing-song rhythm that fans will be jumping up and down to.
The album’s final third is possibly it’s strongest, starting with the reggae groove of “Lost at Home”. The song is reminiscent of their 2003 hit “The Science of Selling Yourself Short”, with self-analyzing lyrics (“how can you save yourself from drowning in your pride”) and a slowed-down pace. Things pick up again on the album stand-out “Move”. With its driving beat and strong melodic hook, it’s hard not to feel good listening to this song.
Then comes “Bill”, a sweet ode to Descendents drummer/songwriter Bill Stevenson for his inspiration, putting special emphasis on the fact that Bill is still alive and well (“Why wait to honor someone when they’re gone?”). From that loud and raging banger, the album comes down smoothly with the soothing horns and classic ska guitar riffs on “So Much Less”. Roger’s voice sounds great here, taking on the anthemic chorus with a heart-on-his-sleeve passion. The soulful sax solo is also a stand-out, bringing an E Street Band dimension to the song that really brings it home.
It’s hard to find anything critical to say about this album. For anyone who was not a lover of the 90’s ska explosion, there isn’t much here that will change your mind on the genre – tracks like “Anytime and Anywhere” could just as easily have fit on one of LTJ’s earlier albums. But those who have been longtime and loyal fans of the group in need of some music with a little more emotional heft after this difficult year, Silver Linings is here for you.
The album drops on December 11th, and you can listen to the pre-released tracks here!