At this point, I’ve realized that the readership is very selective in terms of what it considers interesting enough about which to read an entire review. Being that Nate’s and my interests, though not identical, can be said to not be all that enthralling to whatever we’d consider the readership-at-large, and this is another one of those reviews that is more-than-likely out of the realm of interest for most of you, feel free to suggest future topics as you gloss over this one.
My short list of best albums ever is very short. #3 tends to vary depending on any number of factors, #2 is always “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd, and #1 has been “Keasbey Nights” by Catch 22 since the first time I heard it in 1998. I’d evangelize for it (if that’s a correct usage of that word), but it’s music that is only appealing those that already like that type of music. This part will sound like every other description/write-up of the album in 1998, but it combined punk, ska, and hardcore elements in a way that didn’t simply add a ska-inspired brass section to a punk band (Less Than Jake, I like you, but I’m looking in your direction) or a lead singer who alternated between hardcore yelling and regular singing so he could, you know, “show that he had a sensitive side.” I’m not one to get much out of the simple fact that people in band are (or aren’t) skilled musicians, if I were, I’d be a Rush fan, but most write-ups of Catch 22’s album in 1998 mention the “chops” of the brass section.
Though a hugely popular album, “Keasbey Nights ” is part of a genre where popularity is usually measured on one or two scales of magnitude down from “pop” popular music. Pretty much any fan of non-MTV punk music and what people with too much time on their hands call the 3rd Wave [of] Ska has heard of the album; they might not all consider it the best album ever, but it is generally held in universally very high regard.
In briefest terms, “Keasbey Nights, Vol.2” is a 2006 released re-recording of that same album that came out in 1998 by a different band (Streetlight Manifesto) that includes some of the original members of Catch 22, notably the original lead singer who was also the one who was the songwriter for the whole thing. Oh yeah, he also left Catch 22 less than one year after Keasbey Nights came out. Moreso, he’s the founder of Streetlight Manifesto. Not to turn this into story time, but we see how there is a lot more to this, um, “re-album” than you might expect…
Like I said earlier, the album was popular among a very limited group of people, but if anything, that group is rather passionate. If you look around the internet, you’ll see numerous “stories” about why that lead singer/songwriter, Tomas Kalnoky, left Catch 22, and not to contribute to “the internet,” but I think I remember hearing an audio interview with him where he said that he left to go to college and touring definitely wasn’t conducive to that. A fair number of websites say that there was a dispute between him and the record company, though I’m not sure why he’d choose to distribute his new band’s CDs through that same label though. To be honest, the reason he left doesn’t matter to anyone but him and 1998 Catch 22 (like a lot of 5+ person bands, they’ve shuffled their lineup a bit, just like Streetlight Manifesto). But, to contribute to “the internet,” let’s assume that the mystery situation that made it so he felt compelled to re-record and re-release a CD from 8 years ago, let’s unsafely jump to some unfair conclusions that, being that we’re decidedly removed from the actual people involved (and it’s not our business), will attempt to explain why.
No matter the talents of the original members of Catch 22, the strength of the album came from Kalnoky’s songwriting. Catch 22’s follow-up album, “Alone in a Crowd,” was mediocre at best. To be fair, their most recent album, “Dinosaur Sounds,” is perfectly acceptable, as it seems they got comfortable writing songs that weren’t trying to sound like ones that Kalnoky would have written. Kalnoky’s leaving relatively soon after the release of Keasbey Nights created a number of problems:
- The other guys in Catch 22 were aware of the success of the album (for a time, it was Victory Records’ all-time highest selling album, and Victory is not an insignificant record label in the punk/hardcore world). When the reason for their success (Kalnoky) left for whatever reason, they were probably pretty miffed at him as he was almost singularly responsible for their success. So, that’s the band being mad at the all-of-a-sudden checked-out lead singer and songwriter.
- Instead of calling it quits or re-organizing under a different name, Catch 22 shuffled the lineup and continued being a band whose drawing power was defined by someone no longer affiliated with the band in any way. Not that Kalnoky considered Catch 22 his baby, but Catch 22’s livelihood stemmed from his songs. Not to judge anyone’s moral character, but he would have been crossing a long asking them to break up the band when he quit, while they would have been crossing a line if they would’ve said he would’ve been being unreasonable had he asked for that. Again, who knows what happened, but it ties into the release of “Keasbey Nights, Vol. 2.” So, that makes the checked-out lead singer and songwriter miffed at his former (by his choice) band.
- At two Catch 22 concerts I attended in 2003 and 2004, the audience had huge reactions for “Keasbey Nights” songs and merely receptive reactions for anything made by the band since Kalnoky’s departure 5+ years earlier. This’ll be enough to get those in Catch 22 a little miffed at themselves, if only for the fact that their most popular work was done by someone else more than half a decade ago. It’s weird to think of it in these terms, but at the time I said to the friend with whom I went to concerts that it’s like Catch 22 became their own cover band. The thing was, they weren’t even a very good one. Songs from Keasbey Nights, even though they received the biggest reactions, were played with the littlest precision or care for getting the right notes, or most tellingly, were played at obscenely fast tempos, giving the impression they were trying to get them over with. Now that Catch 22 has two (and supposedly a 3rd coming out in June 2006) post-Keasbey Nights albums, they have enough material to play only their “own” songs, though “Catch 22” is still emblazed on their fans’ favorite album, so there will be fans upset that they didn’t play any of the “old” songs.
- One of the tracks which included spoken “thank-yous” on the 1998 album now has two computer voices doing a question and answer about why the record exists. Apparently someone was planning on a re-release of the 1998 album, and Kalnoky says that the recording quality of the original album was so bad that he’d feel like the fans were getting screwed over if they were going to be buying the same album. Significantly, the fact that Kalnoky is no longer in Catch 22 and most likely had nothing to do with the decision to repackage the original CD means that his re-recording of the album with Streetlight Manifesto makes it so any re-release of the unenhanced 1998 album is entirely pointless “artistically” and commercially for both the current Catch 22 and the record label both bands share. In fact any other re-release of the 1998 won’t go over well at all now that it’s been done.
- Being that the world of punk and ska music isn’t exactly the realm of millionaires, a feud doesn’t really accomplish much beyond the principle of it all. Kalnoky has sort of gone out of his way saying that there’s no bad blood anymore, and everything’s fine, but it’s doubtful that “Keasbey Nights, vol. 2,” which has a computer voice saying “In the end, this will piss people off, and that’s all that really matters” isn’t related to this non-existent feud.
So, aside from making it so a Catch 22 (in name) re-release won’t ever happen, Keasbey Nights, Vol.2 also makes it so Catch 22 will be put in a tough spot in concert, considering that their already one-step-removed connection to the songs on Keasbey Nights was strained even more with the guy who actually singularly wrote the songs re-recording them with his new band. At that point, one could argue that Catch 22 really needs to move on and face the fact that other than their name is on the album, they’re more Kalnoky’s songs than theirs. Also, related to the previous point, when I saw Streetlight Manifesto, once in 2003 and once in 2004, Kalnoky was definitely not into playing any of “his” Catch 22 songs. There’s no way he wouldn’t expect the fans to want to hear some of them, so I was surprised that the only Catch 22 song the band played was “Giving Up, Giving In” which is probably the last song fans would want to hear from Keasbey Nights. In some figurative sense, his re-recording of the album with his band might re-establish some sense of artistic “ownership.” To be honest, I’m obviously sort of into “only they know what’s going on” territory, and my life would be enhanced in no way if I knew what was really going on as they say. I’d say that I’d rather everyone get along and they all get filthy rich from the sheer awesomeness of even the 1998 Keasbey Nights album. If they don’t have the personalities to mesh well in a band, that can be that.
Oddly enough, I’m thinking I haven’t actually covered the CD itself. I guess I was so enthusiastic about the original album and I was sort of caught by surprise by the release last Tuesday, that the whole situation seems interesting in a “behind the music” sort of way. Of course, I’m not a journalist; I’m just some schmuck that can use Google, like everyone else on the internet. Speaking of “the internet,” Tomas Kalnoky has quite the collection of fanboys out there. Few of them will admit that Catch 22’s post-Keasbey Nights albums have any redeeming value, and just as baffling, they’ll say that Streetlight Manifesto plays perfectly in concert, which having been to two concerts and having MP3’s of two others, the music is just too fast to be played perfectly by anyone except robots. I don’t expect perfection, but when people trash one band (Catch 22) for missing notes while ignoring the fact that another (Streetlight Manifesto) does the same thing, the whole “fanboy” thing is obvious. (Note, my take on how Catch 22 plays their “old” songs is a different issue than whether or not they miss notes.)
Anyway, the album itself… Well, imagine pizza is your favorite food for effectively forever. You really like pizza. Then imagine that someone just showed you that unknowingly, you’ve just been eating plain pizza, and there are toppings out there that make it even better. It’s like that.
I sort of literally know the original album backward and forward, so it was immensely familiar while the enhanced fidelity of the recording (specifically, that you can hear the words instead of vocal mush, and each instrument can be heard individually) made it something new. Small lyrical changes are peppered here and there while there are numerous inconsequential (but not pointless) musical changes, namely in the horn riffs. You get the impression that Kalnoky said, “I’ve always wished that trombone part went bum-bum-bah instead of bah-bah-bum.” For those that listened to the heck out of the original album, it’s fun to listen to what’s really the same CD without with being exactly the same, similar to listening to a live version of favorite song. Universally the solos are stronger than on the original album. What little negative I have to say about the new recording might be just a sign that I don’t know much about audio recording, but it sounds like in addressing one of the issues of the first recording (the different instruments, singing, etc.) sort of getting lost in the audio mix, they over-boosted the trebles. The tracks were hard to listen to with headphones in my MP3 player which had a zeroed equalizer and the headphones I always use without issue. Boosting the treble makes the sound stick out and more “piercing” but I can’t say it doesn’t sound a bit tinny. Also, specifically on the first track, “Dear Sergio,” the mix just sounds “off:” the lead vocal seems to only be mixed into the right channel while the harmony is only in the left, and I’m not sure that’s how it’s usually done. The “problem” is less pronounced depending on where I’m listening to the track, but it was annoying the first time I heard it. But that’s nitpicking.
Keasbey Nights, Vol. 2 by Streetlight Manifesto receives five stars due to the strength of its source material and the whole “toppings make pizza better” thing. It’s not an album that has been “covered,” it’s more-or-less the same people (sort of) just doing it over, better with higher quality recording equipment. The original album would also receive five big stars whether or not this re-recording existed. The issue is whether it’s worth buying the new if you already have the old…I’d say yes, as for those that hold the album in high esteem, the two versions are more accurately “different” than “better” and “worse.” Many of you are familiar with my dislike of “gimmicky” anythings, so if you ever listen to this album (either version, though the fidelity of the newer one makes it more obvious) you might notice how Pachelbel’s Canon is D is more or less inserted into track #07. Yes, this would obviously be a gimmicky thing, but when you take the time to write in the 4th, 5th, and 6th(?) parts of the Canon, it’s not gimmicky, it’s ambitious.