Reel Big Fish is one of the most popular third wave ska bands out there. They’ve released some great albums including their most successful, “Turn The Radio Off,” and my personal favorite, “Why Do They Rock So Hard.” One Reel Big Fish album that does not get the credit that it deserves is their fifth full-length release, “We’re Not Happy ’til You’re Not Happy.”
“We’re Not Happy ’til You’re Not Happy” (WNHTYNH), is so much more than just an excellently named album. This album is home to some great Reel Big Fish tracks and features the band going in a very different direction than they ever have. Ska-punk is still very much present on this album, but the tone is much darker than ever before – darker than normal that is.
Many fans’ issue with WNHTYNH is the production quality. This album, produced by frontman Aaron Barrett, is produced with a dark, far-off tone, with the horns sounding distant and the guitars sounding distorted even in the ska sections.
I understand why fans aren’t too keen on this unique style, but for me, it is one of the highlights of the record.
The album is intentionally rough and gritty sounding. Although producer Aaron Barrett has since disparaged it, I find it interesting and captivatingly unique. On the first song, “The Fire,” the rough production really adds to the song and further emphasizes the hopelessness portrayed in the lyrics.
Aside from the production, “WNHTYNH” is home to some great, catchy songs that feel at home within Reel Big Fish’s catalog. “Drinkin’” sounds like it could be the sequel to Reel Big Fish’s hit song, “Beer.” The guitar intro is catchy and upbeat, and the horns elevate the chorus to perfection.
“WNHTYNH” was recorded at a time when primary songwriter Aaron Barrett was feeling pessimistic about his band. This is reflected in many of the songs, specifically in “Don’t Start A Band.” This bluntly titled song could have been an ironic comedy song, but the lyrics feel like Barrett is giving sincere advice to not start a band. The instrumentation on this song is excellent. The horns come in during key ska portions and the tone on the guitar during the upstrokes is unique and powerful.
Another song dealing with Barrett’s dissatisfaction with his band is the slow rock song, “One Hit Wonderful.” Though the song does not mention it by name, the lyrics are clearly referring to Reel Big Fish’s mainstream success with the song “Sell Out” and never being able to live up to the heights the band achieved in the 1990s. One line sums up the sentiments:“They don’t love you, they just love that one song.”
Despite a few hit-or-miss covers, “We’re Not Happy ’til You’re Not Happy” is full of wonderful songs that take a darker than usual approach for the band. This album has not been given the appreciation that it deserves from the Reel Big Fish fanbase. I hope that this album can be given a second chance by Reel Big Fish fans and that we can hear more of these songs live.
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