2021 has been a year for revisiting ska. It seems like the often-maligned genre, which saw its punk hybrid version rise and fall in the 90’s, has been resurging as of late. Not just with bands like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, VooDoo Glow Skulls and Less Than Jake coming out with crisp new albums, but also with a wave of new bands like We Are the Union, Bad Operation, Bite Me Bambi keeping the genre fresh and attracting younger fans.
One of the classic ska groups from the 80’s UK scene that I had never spent much time with, outside of a couple popular singles, was Madness. Diving into Spotify’s This is Madness playlist, I came a cross a number of tracks that proved the group’s reputation as one of the UK’s preeminent ska bands to be wholly accurate. One of these songs that truly left an indelible mark was “Embarrassment”, from 1980’s Absolutely.
An upbeat, jaunty track laced with piano, it begs you to swing, even as the rhythm section gets funky and the saxophone jazzes things up. What is so surprising is the track is about parents telling their kid not to come home, as they’re an “embarrassment” and a “disgrace to the human race”. Yet, this reminds us that ska, like punk, is a genre for outcasts and people looking for community. And these days, after all the division we see on a daily basis, maybe we all need some throwback two-tone dance party music like this to bring us together.
A pipe dream? Likely, but take a listen to this grand ol’ song and tell me it doesn’t make you want to be skanking in a room full of spirited, jovial people.