The Mad Caddies. Flag-fliers of ska-punk in the late 1990’s into early 2000. Combining elements from Dixieland, Jazz and Polka, the Mad Caddies are not your average ska band (if you can categorize them as that) and have created a truly unique sound and reputation. Pre-reports from the band before their 5th full-length album suggested that it was going to be “heavily influenced by reggae” and Sascha Lazor (guitar/banjo player) described that the record as “stylistically the same as previously, but there will be changes!” And he was correct! I was very disappointed with The Mad Caddies last effort Just One More. To me, the album seemed not to fit together at all, and the Caddies just didn’t seem emotionally attached to any of the songs and I spent half the time skipping songs as well as avoiding the dreadful ‘Drinking For 11”. So when I heard the description of “change”, I was pleased but hesitant. After 10 years since Quality Soft Core, could the Mad Caddies produce another magnificent record in the same vein as Duck and Cover (in my opinion their best album) or would the album sink into obscurity and be described as “the album that killed the Caddies”?
The first track “The Dirge” instantaneously grabs you by the scruff of the neck and tosses you into a New Orleans parade, horns flaring and guitar slicing, making it almost impossible not to dance. Chuck Robertson recites the lyrics “I get tired of all these same old songs of change/ Who’s changing?”, which immediately signals the intent of the whole album. What struck me about this song was the tone and pitch of Robertson’s voice. One word. Outstanding. The listener is then swiftly directed into “Backyard”, a dub-orientated ska song, which is an excellent follow-up. Again, the vocals are immense and the production quality can really be noticed here. Left salivating at the mouth for more, you are swept into “State of Mind”, the first single off the album. This is a bizarre choice for a single in my opinion with numerous songs on the album outclassing it on every level, and there are no horns to be heard (or maybe that was the intention). The track melodically runs it course, in a listenable fashion and its catchy nature cannot be denied. “Today” brings a Dixieland, fast-paced ska sound, which really captures the listener, with the lyrics centered around change once more, “Throw me a rope something to save me/ As I’m sailing on a ship that’s going down”. This track does become repetitive but is in no way a bad track and leads nicely onto “Without You”, one of my favourites on the album. It takes on a two-tone combined with Polka persona, and the droning guitar part lures the listener and this song displays the matured nature of the Mad Caddies with solid lyrics intertwined with an almost hypnotising array of upstrokes and horn lines; leaving the listener with an incomprehensible urge to dance.
After the first 5 tracks, comes the heart of the album which produces the most magic and inspiration. “Reflections” begins dramatically and atmospherically, and then the upstrokes kick-in and the song ignites into a true Caddies classic, that truly embodies the new direction in which they are heading. The trumpet work of Keith Douglas must be appreciated here to, and after you’ve warn out the replay button on your CD player, “Lay Your Head Down” is the next track to flirt with your hearing, and this would have to be my favourite track on the album. This track very much reminds me of Streetlight Manifesto but more laid-back, and the horn line in this song is quite indescribable. The lyrics are the strongest on the album here, “I’m just hooked on the feeling/ on flying on the wings of escape/ These neon lights protect me while reality’s kept at bay” and display the true essence of what the Mad Caddies were trying to achieve in the album. “Tired Bones” is one of the only fast ska songs on the album and is immediately appealing with the horn harmonies and relentless drumming, keeping you entertained throughout all 2:53 minutes, and commendation must be given to the breakdown, which is captivating to say the least.
After a few minutes recovery, “Coyote” (the 9th track) begins slowly with an intriguing organ part and it builds-up leaving the listener awaiting the explosion of sound, which occurs. This is a very different song for the Mad Caddies to attempt, and they pull it off with ease. “Don’t Go” would be an obvious choice for a single (much better than “State of Mind”), which is (dare I say) pop orientated and wouldn’t be out of place on any major radio station. The track pleasantly leads you into “Pyramid Scheme”, which sounds similar to the British ska band Capdown in places and is the track, which is most similar to Just One More, making it one of the weaker songs on the album. Next comes “Souls for Sale”, a personal favourite, which is a feel good song if I’ve ever heard a feel good song, with lyrics attached to war (something that the Caddies have not concentrated on before). The chorus is brilliant and is the most appealing on the album, “From the hills of California to the streets of Berlin/ to the clubs in London town/ Tell me where have our songs gone/ Where can they be found?” At this point the album whimpers out, with two rather uninteresting tracks, with “Riding For a Fall” (with an appearance from Duckie Simpson) an average cover and “Watcha Gonna Do” an acoustic track that left me wondering why they didn’t make it electric with horns. Attention should also be paid to the hidden track, which is not really a song but relates a very similar feel to “The Dirge”, leaving the listener wanting more.
Overall, Keep it Going is a major success for the Mad Caddies. It is ten times better than Just One More in terms of lyrics, production, horn lines and soul. The tracks fit together perfectly, meaning that you can listen to all of the songs in one go without skipping or really noticing (which could be seen as a negative). If I could change one component it would be the last two songs, which ruin the album for me, and I’m not sure why they just didn’t have “Souls for Sale” and then make a “Dirge-like” outro. However, this doesn’t really spoil the album to a major extent and its label as the perfect summer album. Some may argue that the album lacks fast-paced classics such as “Macho Nachos” and “Shaving Your Life”, but the albums competency lies in its reggae and soulful tendencies. Improvements can be seen also in Robertson’s vocals, which are impressive on this album, and his vocals in earlier albums are not comparable to here. The Mad Caddies have well and truly rectified their position in the ska/reggae niche, with Keep it Going having to be one of my favourite albums to date. Keep it Going? Yes please.
never thought of it before reading this but a dirge-esque outro would really complete this album. but on to what i think of this. i find myself truely amazed that i am loving an album that is so "dub fed" at points. i tend to stay away from this sound but the mad caddies, always creative in their sound, manage to pull it off without lulling the listener into a daze of boredom. I love the growth that this band has undergone and this album is delightfully off the beaten trail without sounding like a sound mush. i do however find myself wishing for a little more of the badass caddies that i am used to on tracks like "riot" and "preppie girl", but i am aware that a track like that would be a terrible, fragmented edition to this album. massive accomplishment. the mad caddies rock my life. and yes, "the beggining of this cd is f'en sick". tired bones is monumental.
p.s. i have loved all of the stuff by the caddies so the review saying that it was good for them to finally produce a good cd broke my heart a little but overall fantastic review