Once upon a time I thought Dicky Barrett was the most ridiculous singer I ever heard. That still might be true. His low growl is part Tom Waits and part Sherman tank. Fortunately the three piece horn section of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones is capable of delivering all the good clean melodic hooks. This leaves Barrett to deliver verbal gut punches while gargling glass mixed with sandpaper. 1997’s Let’s Face It was their breakthrough. It’s a fine honing of their frantic ska-punk rave ups with a commercial understanding.
All the tracks are dance-able, it’s just a matter of slow or fast. Most are fast! “Noise Brigade” starts the party with some serious skanking, but the Bosstones give you a chance to breathe on hit “The Rascal King”. You can sing along while you get down: “The last hoorah? Nah I’d do it again!” Gentler reggae picking soon gives way to a chorus full of punch. The horns (Tim “Johnny Vegas” Burton – sax, Kevin Lenear – sax, and Dennis Brockenborough – trombone) are a major part of another big hit, “Royal Oil”. Great trombone solo, and upbeat chorus despire its dire anti-drug message.
This cluster of hits concludes with the big one, “The Impression That I Get”, #1 on the Canadian rock charts, was all over the place in ’97-’98. For good reason. If you could distil the Bosstones down to a chewable concentrate, it would probably taste exactly like “The Impression That I Get”. Written by Barrett and bassist Joe Gittleman, it’s simply impossible not to move to this one. The hooks that the horns deliver are just important as the chorus. Both are equally timeless. Nate Albert on guitar is the rhythmic master of ceremony, with the tricky offbeat reggae stylings mixed with metal pick slides. While we’re handing out kudos, drummer Joe Sirois hits hard, but check out his cool shuffle at the end of the song. Meanwhile, dancer Ben Carr makes his biggest impression (that I get) in the music video, as the newspaper-reading dude in a suit just dancing through various shots. Brilliant video, too — cool use of backwards photography at the start. The stark white background with the sleak dark suits matches the whole image and vibe of the Let’s Face It album. Barrett looks about to burst of blood vessel when delivering that yell before the chorus. The video was always in heavy rotation in Canada that year.
It doesn’t matter that there aren’t any singles left, because this is an album of great songs from top to bottom. The title track could have been a fourth single. Upbeat with hooky horns and a very important message: “We sure weren’t put here to hate, be racist, be sexist, be bigots, be sure. We won’t stand for your hate.” Two decades before “woke” culture”, the Bosstones were already leading the charge. And the message is as true then or now.
They take it heavy again on “That Bug Bit Me”, but with the horn section to the melodic rescue. Nate Albert’s penchant for the odd metal hook makes a return, but the horns dominate “Another Drinkin’ Song”. It starts slow and ominous but picks up and turns on the party hooks once more. “Numbered Days” lets a guitar riff stand out, but Barrett’s barrelling baritone is a force to reckon with here.
Through to the end, there are no low points. It’s just a matter of style and what hooks are the ones that stick. “Break So Easily”, “Nevermind Me”, and “Desensitized” all hit the mark. But closer “1-2-8” is mental. And that’s the party in 33 minutes. Over before you know it. A perfect album.