First and foremost, this writer would like to state a couple of points with regard to ska’s continued, if flickering, existence on the punk/rock scene, if only in order to avoid potential disputes about a perceived anti-ska bias. Ska-punk has hit a number of commercial heights at various points in history, starting with Madness and The Specials’ 2-tone and, arguably, ending with No Doubt, Less Than Jake and Rancid in the mid to late nineties. However, this hasn’t stopped the flow of what might be called the muted perpetuation of ska-punk bands who, at this point, really cater to knowledgeable niche audiences. If this era has enabled superb outfits such as Streetlight Manifesto to exist, it has also provided a large share to bands that are too readily willing to ape historic successes rather than organically re-shape the genre with new directions. Where, then, do Yorkshire’s The Talksfit?
In general terms, the foursome are much closer kin to the “old-school” British waves than the American punkier re-invention, mixing chilled-out staccato guitars with reggae keys, and joyfully bratty vocals. There are a handful of short heavier bursts here and there, but really they fit The Specials mold. New EP ‘West Sinister’ kicks matters off with the promising, dirty-sounding, licks of ‘Life In Colour’ that threaten to flirt with exciting off-kilter melodies, only to plunge into “woo-hoo”-laden up-and-down progressions that just feel over trodden. ‘Modern Sub-urban Life’ makes the most out of their well-honed harmonies and a catchy, and not unintelligent, chorus but not much else.
By far their grooviest offering, ‘Can’t Stand The Rain’ introduces some tasteful horns (though they really shine in the solo section) as well as the presence of The Specials’ vocalist Neville Staple, who appears to be just shouting noises. So there’s that. ‘Friday Night’ goes up a few gears on the pace as well as the fun dials, heralding the concept of ‘if it don’t feel right, just drink more’. While it might not be breaking any exciting grounds, there’s enough party-pop packed in it to make it work. Unfortunately, the listener is finally treated to ‘Politricks’, a track that appears to mainly be a showcase for annoying vocal mannerisms.
The Talks appear very aware of how indebted they are to the ska-punk traditions, yet their respectful adherence to the conventions their influences set comes dangerously close to irrelevance. There is certainly space for homage in rock scenes, but that space is probably best reserved for bands that provide a better command of tone and texture, two elements whose nuance this writer deems crucial to the quality of a work of ska. Unfortunately, The Talks don’t fit that bill, though die-hards of the genre might be willing to ignore the scepticism.
‘West Sinister’ by The Talks is released March 11th on All Our Own Records.
Words by James Berclaz-Lewis