Booze & Glory
Vespa & Londonians (12”EP)
(Pirates Press Records)
Remember back in the early aughts when Fearless Records compiled a series of albums which found some genuinely great punk bands covering a multitude of different artists and genres – recasting them all in a punk context? Some of those covers were actually really, really cool (hearing AFI perform Guns N’ Roses’ “My Michelle” was pretty cool, as was Strike Anywhere’s cover of “Chalk Line,” Plain White Ts’ cover of Blur’s “Song 2” and New Found Glory’s cover of “Nothing For Christmas”) and, while those Fearless comps weren’t without their flaws, listeners usually walked away satisfied when the CD ended because the comps were never all bad (although seldom quite as good as an average Mefirst and the Gimme Gimmes album, but that’s a separate conversation, for a different review). That spirit is revived, on a much smaller scale(and using just one artist, obviously), on Booze & Glory’s Vespa & Londonians 12” EP. Here, the English punk band recaptures the original crew of British punk bands’ appreciation for ska and reggae, and re-casts a set of six of their own songs in that frame. The sound effortlessly grabs attention with its’ novelty, and manages to keep it with the overall quality of the performance applied.
As soon as needle touches down and catches the groove on the A-side of Vespa & Londonians, listeners will be surprised by the quality of what they hear in “Blood From A Stone” – singer Mark RSK keeps his vocals from getting too scruffy and really takes acre to put some emphasis on melody over aggression, while guitarist Kahan lays up with some really, really smooth and warm timbres, bassist Chema assumes the central role in the mix with a bottomless bass tone and drummer Frank keeps the whole thing locked down with a simple and constant beat. Even dogged critics of reggae (which, it could easily be argued, includes me) will have to admit that the sound overlaid onto this song is pretty sweet.
With the running established by “Blood From A Stone,” Booze & Glory speed it up and move the keyboards back in the mix for “Live It Up” and don’t really change the paradigm with which they’re working but do pick up the pace a bit. Easily the “whitest” cut on the EP, “Live It Up” goes out of its way to make sure that the punk and ska elements in the band are well-balanced but sped up (read: “punkier” in a NOFX sort of way), which is cool and will really hook fans of NOFX, No Doubt and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. The performance is solid and fades gently into “Three Points,” which returns to the balance established in “Blood From A Stone,” to ensure that the side closes strongly.
Between the three cuts on the A-side of Vespa & Londonians, listeners are offered a pretty straightforward examination of reggae as it exists in Booze & Glory’s palette. Really, these three cuts could easily have been released as a complete single on their own and could have satisfied fans who really wanted to hear how dramatically Booze & Glory was capable of changing up their sound – but the band chose to push a little more and give listeners three more cuts – a whole other side full of ska/reggae-infused music which began life as punk.
Throughout the B-side of Vespa & Londonians, Booze & Glory recap what they accomplished on the record’s A-side; the approach is the same and the songs play through pretty similarly. “Carry On” presents a great punk song rethought with really tightly muted guitar strings and a horn section (which some fans will probably appreciate) while “Back On Track” is more “SoCal” in sophistication and “Ten Years” echoes its predecessor’s presentation before letting the needle lift. That’s all okay, but certainly not remarkable – particularly given that the songs ring about the same way that those on the A-side did.
…And, in recognizing how the EP ends, one also recognizes the problem with it. In three songs, Booze & Glory made their point – but then filled a whole other side with three more redundant songs. Those songs didn’t really need to be there and, because Booze & Glory was basically covering themselves, they weren’t terribly exciting tracks at that. Now, that is not to say that Vespa & Londonians is without merit – but it could easily have been pared down to a really, strong 7” instead of a perfectly average, much longer release. [Bill Adams]
The Vespas & Londonians 12” EP will be released on December 18, 2021. Pre-order it here on Pirates Press Records. https://shop.piratespressrecords.com/pages/booze-and-glory