Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.
Artist: Five Iron Frenzy
Title: Our Newest Album Ever!
Genre: Christian ska-punk
In the mid-to-late 90s, ska became briefly relevant, mostly in the underground and college scene. A few ska bands broke into the mainstream and then disappeared like Reel Big Fish or The Mighty Mighty BossTones, but the most notable remnant of that movement was some ska-adjacent acts like No Doubt, Madness, and Sublime. As I mentioned in the my Christian rock supplemental and the entry for Pspazz, the 90s saw a huge emergent Christian rock movement that generated some actually-pretty-incredible music. Part of this included a ska scene, with a number of bands gaining traction like The O.C. Supertones, Insyderz, and--my personal favorite--Five Iron Frenzy. FIF formed in Denver as a side project by members of a thrash metal band called Exhumator who realized they didn't actually like thrash metal all that much. The side project gained members and morphed into a ska band, played an impromptu set at the Cornerstone Music Festival, and soon were signed to Five Minute Walk records. They even opened for The Mighty Mighty BossTones and Less Than Jake in the local Denver scene before gaining a national following. Their debut album came out in 1996, and the follow-up Our Newest Album Ever! was released a year later.
There's a weird dividing line for me with Christian music, which I've talked about before. Most of these albums are hard to listen to, despite being formative for me, and it really comes down to how much Christianity is part of the message versus how much it's a part of the perspective. FIF straddles that line. They're message-forward, but they have a wide variety of messages, and they have an earnestness that sometimes feels naive but that also keeps them from ever feeling cynical. In addition to singing about Jesus, they go on anti-capitalist rants (Did you know there was a Christian youth anti-capitalism movement in the late-90s/early-00s? Christian-bleeding-heart-liberals is a thing!), lament the slaughter of Native Americans by the United States in Banner Year (the best song on this album, for my money), and they have multiple songs on this album about being a touring band and how hard that lifestyle is. Superpowers (embedded above) digs into some of that with some hilarious lyrics like "We've been given superpowers, ask about our rock and roll" or "Sometimes we have a deadline for writing our songs, five minutes left to write this one, la la-la la-la la-la-la."
They're also unapologetically silly, and that may be why I still have so much affection for them. Where Is Micah? is a song about how the guitarist keeps wandering off. Blue Comb '78 tells the story of the singer's sister throwing his brand new comb out the window when he was five and how still misses it. Oh Canada is an ode to Canada that opens with "Welcome to Canada, it's the Maple Leaf State!" And underscoring all of this is just some really great songwriting. Strong hooks, great musicianship, and some really creative arrangements. Most of the music was composed by bassist Scott Kerr, who left the band in 1998 after losing his faith (it happens, I've been there, man) and there's a noticeable drop in quality that follows shortly.
Further Listening: They've got a fairly extensive oeuvre, but their best albums are their first four. Upbeats And Beatdowns is unpolished but still pretty good. After ONAE! they released the Quantity Is Job 1 EP that has some great tunes like One Girl Army, Get Your Riot Gear, a fantastic cover of ELO's Sweet Talkin' Woman, and perhaps the greatest song ever written: The Untimely Death Of Brad. All The Hype is pretty solid as well. The band went on hiatus in 2003 and then re-formed with Kerr in 2011 and are still touring, but I haven't heard any of their newer material.