|Cover illustration by Bob Fingerman.|
(Review by Steve Shafer)
The Bands: A who's who of East Coast and West Coast ska bands, circa 1988, including The Toasters, The NY Citizens, The Scofflaws, Bim Skala Bim, Let's Go Bowling, The Donkey Show, The Boilers, Rhyth-o-matics, No Doubt, Crucial DBC, Skankhead (later to become Skankin' Pickle), Thick as Thieves, and the Exterminators.
The Sound: Just about evenly split between bands influenced by 2-Tone and Fishbone, and those following in the steps of the Skatalites and Prince Buster--all gloriously free of ska-punk and punk-ska (both of which were gestating in the studio at the time: the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Operation Ivy were to issue their admittedly brilliant debut albums in 1990).
The Release: Unleashed on the world from Moon Records in 1988 (though I didn't pick up my copy until early 1989), Ska Face was the first US ska comp to ever hit the record shelves. While the US 3rd wave ska scene was still in its rudimentary phase and was quite fragmented and disorganized, this album hinted at some of the amazing things that were to come to fruition by the mid-90s. For the first time, American ska fans had an inkling that something might be going out there beyond the city limits and their parochial ska scene (if there was one!); this was pre-internet/dark ages when ska news, other than word-of-mouth or show listings in your local alternative paper, was really hard to come by (in the late '80s and early '90s, I gleaned most of my ska news from George Marshall's great Zoot! skazine, which was published in England, for pete's sake!).
Side one of Ska Face is terrific the whole way through, from The Toasters' catchily aggressive manifesto "Ska Killers" (with one of my favorite wry lyrics for clueless Americans: "It's the music of Jamaica/and I don't mean Jamaica, Queens/and I heard it on an airwave coming up from New Orleans..."); Bim Skala Bim's hard-driving "Shoes"--which is about being away and finding you've been replaced ("I've been gone two days/And I find a strange pair of shoes/Under my bed"); the Rhyth-o-Matics' wonderfully percussive and horn-charged "Skatalation"; The Scofflaws' first recording of "Rudy's Back" (I made a point of catching them live after first hearing this cut--which is a bit less polished than the version that ended up on their debut record, but perfectly captured the incredible enthusiasm and energy of their shows at the time); the happily stoned laid-back skank of The Donkey Show's "Feeling Nice"; to Let's Go Bowling's great, revved-up, pissed-at-my-girlfriend rant, "Bitch." Side two is a little bit more hit or miss, but standout tracks include The NY Citizens' frenetic "D.A.N.C.E." (from their superb On the Move LP); The Boilers' great trad intstrumental "Bal' Man Jump" (this from Jeff Baker's pre-Skinnerbox band, which released a full-length LP on Oi/Ska Records in the UK, also in 1988); No Doubt's twitchily paranoid "Everything's Wrong" (yes, Virginia, they really started out as a pretty good ska band before going for pop!); and Skankhead's loopy "Circus Skank." (For the record, Bim Skala Bim's label Razorbeat released the second US ska comp, Mashin' Up the Nation, in 1989.)
The Ugly Reality: Not many copies of this LP made it into the hands of ska fans (as few and far between as we were), as one of Moon's main distributors at the time went belly up, swallowing a good deal of Ska Face's pressing with it (and since Moon, run out of Buck's apartment in Chelsea, completely lacked the funds to re-press it, there were no more copies to be had). It may not strike you as such two decades on, but if you were lucky enough to pick up a copy back in the late 80s, this record was manna from heaven...
(For you nitpickers: Ska Face was later released on CD in the UK by Skank in the mid-90s as Skaville USA, Volume 3. But good luck finding a copy of the LP nowadays...)
The Grade: A-
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