Perhaps the most revealing aspect of a popular music trend dying is that listeners get a chance to see all the bands that did not get involved for the sake of popularity and/or involvement. Ska’s immense popularity in the late 90s spawned so many copycat, trend jumping bands it made it difficult to separate them away from the truly good acts of the genre- many of which plied their trade in the much maligned third wave of ska; a hybrid of punk’s pop veneer and ska’s more traditional roots. Some of the biggest names of the time are either currently on hiatus (Mighty Mighty Bosstones), long gone (Slapstick), or sucking (Less than Jake, Reel Big Fish). Some of the mid tier names, like Buck-O-Nine, and of course, Mustard Plug, didn’t quite achieve some of the bigger accolades their contemporaries did, but seemed to have an underlying quality of longevity and perseverance that the others didn’t have. While Buck-O-Nine briefly flirted with major label stardom, Mustard Plug seemed to remain low key in their marketing approach, but kept their sound and music big.
Mustard Plug remained unfazed as the major label deals disappeared, the music videos stopped playing on MTV, and ska became another passing buzzword in the history of hype and hoopla. Sticking close to Hopeless Records, Mustard Plug have remained true to their sound- keeping their ska roots firmly entrenched amongst their razor sharp punk influences. In an age where histrionics and melodrama rule, In Black And White is auspicious in its upbeat humor, style, and general attitude- and it’s actually really fun! From the opening salvo of the pop/punk infused “Who Benefits?” to the bouncy anthemic nature of “Hit Me! Hit Me!” it’s clear that In Black And White is exactly what it claims to be- a clear and present portrait of ska/punk in its purest, undiluted form.
The album gets a real kick during “Something New,” taking cue from punk brevity the song is In Black And White’s most up tempo effort and its energetic peak. The short burst of energy is coupled nicely with the similar toned “You Can’t Go Back,” a track packing a punch clocking in at under the minute mark. In “Real Rat Bastard,” Mustard Plug turn up the fun with catchy choral sing-a-longs, brassy trumpets, and some good ol’ fashioned “la la la la la la’s” reminding the listener that sometimes it’s all just a little better with a smile on your face. It’s a tone reflective of the album’s overall quality- a strong effort all around that isn’t buoyed by radio single pressure or hype. It is in the end, it sounds just like a good album by talented musicians still playing the kind of music they enjoy.
Trends come and go, just as the bands that populate them do. For fans of ska burdened by the media blitz that followed the genre’s popular revival, it must be infinitely rewarding the know that beneath the gloss, there are still plenty of truly great musicians keen on maintaining a sense of fun and excitement with the urgency and truth. In Black And White won’t bring ska back into the mainstream, but it’s a richly rewarding listen and deserving of praise.