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We're Not Happy 'til You're Not Happy

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Album Review

We're Not Happy 'Til You're Not Happy is Reel Big Fish's first album in three years. But if the title isn't a giveaway, this feels more like an embittered farewell than a triumphant return. The artwork features a bonfire built from mangled instruments, the band fight against a sinking ship, and frontman Aaron Barrett sings angrily about his band, thankless fans, record industry stupidity, and a few ex-girlfriends. And yet, as they did with the 1996 hit "Sell Out," Reel Big Fish attach their cynicism to buoyant melodies, ringing guitars, and charming inflections of their third-wave past. For a band so angry about their state of being, Reel Big Fish sure seem game to keep plugging away, and this conflicted sentiment makes We're Not Happy confusing. "One Hit Wonderful" begins with a montage of "flashback lunch" radio DJs and snippets of "Sell Out" before slamming fickle fans into an Irish drinking song sway. "Last Show" pulls even fewer punches — "I've learned my lesson/I'll never follow my dreams again," Barrett sings — but it's one of We're Not Happy's hookiest tracks. Even the covers are telling, as Big Fish fry up ska-punk'd versions of Social Distortion's "Story of My Life" (where they sound exactly like Smash Mouth) and Morrissey's "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful." (Another cover, Tracy Chapman's "Talkin' Bout a Revolution," misses the point completely.) What do Reel Big Fish really want? Opener "Fire" is a refreshing blast in the vein of classic Operation Ivy, but it also considers the futility of making music. Then there's the self-explanatory "Don't Start a Band." It has none of the veteran's tone of warning, à la Less Than Jake's 2003 LP Anthem; it just hammers home record biz shenanigans over another sunny ska-punk hook. "Turn the Radio Off" is the final word, denouncing the industry, radio, its "zombie" listeners, and seemingly by association, Reel Big Fish themselves. And naturally it's super catchy.


Formed: Huntington Beach, CA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Reel Big Fish were one of the legions of Southern California ska-punk bands to edge into the mainstream following the mid-'90s success of No Doubt and Sublime. Like most of their peers, they were distinguished by their hyperkinetic stage shows, juvenile humor, ironic covers of new wave pop songs, and metallic shards of ska. The group cultivated an underground following that broke into the mainstream in summer 1997, when the single "Sell Out" became a modern rock radio and MTV favorite. Reel Big Fish's...
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We're Not Happy 'til You're Not Happy, Reel Big Fish
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