Prepare to feel really quite old. The very best ska-punk album ever released (fight me!) was released twenty years ago this year. Keasbey Nights by Catch 22 is twenty years old! How on earth did that happen!? Because such an iconic album is reaching such a momentous age, I decided to go back and look at why it's such a classic.
(Any excuse to listen to one of my favourite albums of all time.)
I feel like we should probably talk briefly about the history of Catch 22 and Keasbey Nights. Catch 22 formed in New Jersey in 1996 led by singer and guitarist Tomas Kalnoky. After releasing a very successful demo named Rules Of The Game that same year, Catch 22 were signed to Victory Records and would release their debut album Keasbey Nights in 1998. Not long after the release of Keasbey Nights, Kalnoky along with bassist Josh Ansley and trombonist James Egan left the band to focus on education and family life. Catch 22 continued on after this and are still going today but few will argue that Keasbey Nights is not their best work and this was their classic line up.
In 1998 when the album was released, the USA was in the middle of massive boom of third wave ska. When bands such as Reel Big Fish and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were finding their way into the charts and there were countless other bands becoming popular enough to become touring machines, travelling all other the country and playing to countless fans. Think of some of the other bands from that time who were beginning to make their names in the ska punk scene. The likes of Less Than Jake, Mustard Plug, Edna's Goldfish, Spring Heeled Jack USA, Slow Gherkin, Buck-O-Nine, Goldfinger and The Aquabats. All of which were Catch 22's contemporaries. To create the best album out of a list containing those bands is some achievement. Now enough with the history, let's talk about the music!
The thing that first made me fall in love with Keasbey Nights is the sheer energy that explodes out of the album. The speed at which Kalnoky sings his songs truly astounded me and still does to this day, on this record and with his next band, Streetlight Manifesto. At times he's almost rapping - singing along is very tricky. And he's going at this rapid pace whilst playing guitar - as a non musical instrument playing person I'm amazed how anyone can do this. The brass section was unlike anything I'd heard before. I was familiar with plenty of bands that utilised brass sections but most of the time they are used to add to the chorus or provide a solo fill during the song. On Keasbey Nights however the brass is really the star of the show. Giving the songs a whole extra life and taking them to places not many other songs go at the time. The brass section that at the time consisted of Ryan Eldred (saxophone), Kevin Gunther (trumpet) and Jamie Egan (trombone) is just incredible on this record.
Picking a favourite song on Keasbey Nights is a near impossible task. I love thirteen of the fourteen tracks equally and the fourteenth, which is a musical interlude, is also among my favourite lyricless songs I've ever heard. Each song has me singing along with every word (as well as I can keep up anyway) and even after going a long time without listening to the album I can go back and sing every word (that I can keep up with) to every song. How many albums are there where you can honestly do that?
I thinks it's one of the biggest shames in punk rock that Kalnoky ended up leaving Catch 22 after the release of Keasbey Nights. Catch 22 and Streetlight Manifesto both went on to be successful bands but I can just imagine what a career they could have had. It would have been incredible!
So to sum up, Keasbey Nights is twenty years old this year and it's still the greatest ska punk album ever made and I love it very much.
This classic album review was written by Colin Clark.