The UK seems to be at the forefront of a ska-punk renaissance at the moment, with great albums being released almost monthly. To recent stellar efforts from Call Me Malcolm and Skaciety you can now add Popes Of Chillitown to the list, with their third full length, Work Hard, Play Hard, See You In The Graveyard. Expanding on their trademark energetic, up-tempo sound they’ve thrown more ingredients into their already potent mix with two-tone, drum & bass, reggae and dub enhancing the ska-punk flavours.
That eclectic energy is evident from the off on opening track Prang which bounces around like a hyperactive child on a sugar rush. The distorted opening quickly changes pace to some up-tempo skanking grooves over which Matt delivers his distinctive rapid fire vocals. It’s quickly apparent how much heavier the sound is; whether that’s down to production or a conscious attempt by the band, and it works brilliantly on album opener with the sound delivering a ferocious kick.
Second track, and lead single, Get Off/Get On gives ample opportunity to the brass section to shine whilst the slower, laid-back delivery can’t help but remind me of fellow party monsters Imperial Leisure. The track builds throughout, constantly changing tempo before fast rapped vocals signal the race to the end as guitars and brass section crash together in a heavy breakdown.
The interplay between the guitars and brass is a real feature on the album, nowhere more so than on next track Vexed where they literally bounce off each other over playful, sometimes crude lyrics which are delivered with a wry smile and tongue wedged firmly in cheek from vocalist Matt. The laid back mid-section groove provides brief respite before the song sprints to a familiar chaotic end which captures the energy of their live shows.
One of my favourite tracks follows, the eerie, bouncy No Manners In Ireland, with slightly creepy vocals adding to the vibe but also allowing Matt’s smoother vocals to shine. Hints of dub and hip hop combine, along with ever changing rhythms that keep you on your toes throughout.
Graveyard is up next but it’s not so much a real track, more of an interlude really and if treated as such it does what it does. The reggae-rap is reminiscent of something Skindred would do and shows a different side to the band but I was in no rush to listen to it again.
Fortunately, another strong cut in Upside Down gets us back on track and wipes away the memory of Graveyard. Featuring the first real singalong chorus on the album it’s a short fast up-tempo track with delightful call and response interplay between the brass and guitars.
The ska returns with the next couple of tracks, of which the energetic The Last Elephant will have dancefloors skanking away gleefully and features the euphoric lyrical rush from which the album takes its name; whilst Mr. Piotr, another favourite of mine, has an indie vibe. Imagine The Hives crossed with Madness and you’re close. With some nice melodies and plenty of “whoa-whoa” backing vocals both tracks put plenty of spring in your step.
As the album enters the home stretch I felt the songs started to showcase more influences. The sombre Johnny Cash-like intro to What A Guy is a little left field but quickly turns back when the ska guitar strokes take over whilst Inner Peace has a Specials Ghost Town vibe, perhaps mirroring the more serious content of the song which addresses religion and politics. Very deep for the Popes, and a nice change of tone.
Take Control is more typical, if there is such a thing in their repertoire, with crunching guitars liberally garnished with brass which has a spaghetti western feel to it. Throw in an incredibly catchy chorus and you’ve another skank anthem on your hands. Penultimate track Lego Prisoners has some ska-core elements to it which absolutely crushes whilst managing to still be very danceable before the languid intro of Culpa slows things down a little with drawled lyrics and a bouncy fade out.
Despite its length, coming in at a shade over fifty minutes, you wouldn’t know it as it passes by in a blur of high-kicking energy, which perfectly captures the infectious live energy of the band. As mentioned at the start, there have already been some great ska albums this year and this is a very welcome addition.