Everyone born in the late 80’s or the early 90’s remembers Less Than Jake. Memories of parties in backgardens bubbling with adolescent fervour against the energetic backdrop of ‘History Of A Boring Town’ or ‘Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts’ no doubt the subject of nostalgic daydreams. Some might argue that the band’s very existence in the year 2012 is the proof of the audience’s willingness to give in to nostalgia. It is certainly true that the Gainesville band’s sound (a blend of ska and punk of which they were once pioneers) reached its peak around the release of ‘Losing Streak’/’Hello Rockview’ between 1996 and 1998, at which point bouncing basses, soaring horns, staccato-guitars, reggae sections and bratty vocals were all the rage. And then came the poor ‘Borders & Boundaries’, the hit-packed ‘Anthem’ and the risk-less ‘In The Out Crowd’, a progression that suggested little chance of a critical comeback.
Yet, out of nowhere, Less Than Jake landed ‘GVA FLA’ in 2008. A re-emergence album that pays homage to their hometown and brought them back to something akin to their earlier leanings. Less polish, better arrangements, sharper lyrics and a somewhat dark undertone, ‘GVA FLA’ finally gave the band some new credibility. Consequently, until 2012, Less Than Jake’s eventful eventful and uneven career was bookended by an album that restored faith in some purists, felt like the eternal teenagers were flirting with maturity, and introduced a bittersweet edge to their songwriting. It was not to last.
Indeed, with ‘Greetings And Salutations’, Less Than Jake continue their career-spanning tendency towards inconsistency. The qualities and faults of their latest offering are largely predictable, having remained the same for the last three quarters of their career: catchy, up-tempo, polished yet uninspiring and tame. Somewhat paradoxically, the best moments on the album come from two polar opposites. ‘Goodbye Mr. Personality’ revels in its mid-tempo, the meaty bass lines of groove, the palm-muted half-riff and the sassy vocals while, on the other hand, ‘I Can’t Yell Any Louder’ is a fast-paced romp executed with youthful resolution. Yet these are merely good tracks amidst an ocean of averageness.
Unfortunately, too much of ‘Greetings And Salutations’ is derivative and ultimately a disappointment in comparison to the step in the right direction ‘GVA FLA’ represented. There is little enjoyment in seeing the band try to emulate past successes and be satisfied with middle-of-the-road composition. Also, you can only get away with repeating the chorus of ‘Done And Dusted’ a couple dozens of times before it gets from “fairly enjoyable” to insatiable irritation. Fans of the band might find consolation in some of its highs but amateurs surely won’t be fooled.
‘Greeting And Salutations’ byLess Than Jake is released on October 16th via Rude Records/Sleep It Off Records.
Words by James ‘Bearclaw’ Lewis (@swissbearclaw)