This year marks the decade anniversary of New York City ska visionaries The Slackers' first release, Better Late Than Never, titled for the band's well-known penchant for, well, slack-ness. Since that debut, The Slackers have spent the vast majority of 10 years on the road and released more than a half-dozen full-length albums. They've also survived the "death of ska" to stand as uncontested chieftains of its resurgence as an underground phenomenon.
But what's most impressive about The Slackers is their consistent progression: Peculiar, the band's latest Hell-Cat release, is their best to date. For that, thank singer and keyboardist Vic Ruggiero's songwriting, trombonist Glen Pine's emergence as a soul singer, and new guitarist "Agent" Jay Nugent. (The departure of vocalist Marc "Q-Max" Lynn has forced Pine and Ruggiero to step up -- they're a better band for it.)
Peculiar is dominated by two themes: the guilt of a generation gap magnified by the death of one's predecessors (be they Ruggiero's father or ska's musical founders); and a snarling damnation of the American government. The latter -- several indictments of Bush -- mostly shy away from prevalent sloganeering, with songs including "Propaganda" and "Keep It Simple" ranking among the better political songs of the past few years.
But The Slackers are at their best on songs like the title track, full of self-doubt and far from ska's normally characteristic swagger. Ruggiero plays the confused Casanova as well as anyone in modern pop music -- the back-alley beatnik, part corruptive drug dealer, part suicidal poet. That he does so over a jump-up riddim rather than some neo-Waitsian finger-snap only makes it more beguiling.