Sound — 7
Reel Big Fish never ceases to disappoint in the humor or fun department, and one might expect the Huntington Beach natives' new cover album to completely deconstruct classic songs into a series of party sing-alongs. Granted, there are definitely a few wacky selections on Fame, Fortune, and Fornication, but Reel Big Fish also pays homage to its reggae roots by remaining fairly true to artists that inspired their genre in the first place. It's refreshing to hear the band show musical restraint in those instances, but the most engaging selections do tend to be the high-energy, full-fledged ska tunes. Fame, Fortune, and Fornication borrows from the 1960s up to the late 90s, which makes for quite an eclectic mix of songs. Reel Big Fish gives a nod to reggae/ska legends Toots and the Maytals (Monkey Man) and Desmond Dekker (Keep A Cool Head), and not surprisingly, the band doesn't screw too much with the formula. Monkey Man is sped up slightly and morphs into more of a ska song, but the quintet still lets the pure reggae side of them pour out. Another unexpected serious turn comes in the form of Tom Petty's Won't Back Down. While it's not a carbon copy of the 1989 hit, it's still easily the most laid-back, stripped-down track on the entire album. It's fascinating to hear that side of the band, but it does tend to get overshadowed by the concertgoer-pleasing selections. That brings us to the songs that will likely make the biggest impression - the Poison covers. It would have actually been quite a disappointment if Reel Big Fish would have ignored the larger-than-life hair metal era, and you don't get a better sampling than with the Poison tracks Nothin' But A Good Time and Talk Dirty To Me. In Nothin' But A Good Time, the key C.C. DeVille riffs are changed into infectious horns, while the watered-down metal is scratched for a punk approach. The resulting sound couldn't be better, and that cover stands out as one of the album's best. Talk Dirty To Me is no slouch, either, but Reel Big Fish decide to add more of a calypso vibe and feminine touch with guest vocalist Tatiana DeMaria (TAT frontwoman). There are no true disappointments on the album, but the 10-track cover CD is still a fairly predictable offering from Reel Big Fish. Ska fans won't be disappointed, however, and the band does deliver some inspired moments (check out the reggae breakdown in Brown Eyed Girl and the doubled vocals in Authority Song). Fame, Fortune, and Fornication isn't a huge stretch for the band, but just looking at the tracklist alone, there are still a good chunk of crowd pleasers.
Lyrics — 9
It's a pretty wild mix of songs lyrically, and that's one of the most engaging aspects of the album. You can't really judge Reel Big Fish too intensely in this area since they didn't write any of the lyrics, but if covering an eclectic group of artists is a positive, then the band scores big by taking on everyone from Van Morrison to the contemporary ska band Edna's Goldfish.
Overall Impression — 7
For a band like Reel Big Fish, the cover album idea is actually a pretty smart move. Punk and ska bands usually cash in big whenever they lay down an unexpected track, and that was made quite clear when artists like Los Straitjackets and New Found Glory recorded their own versions of Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On. The move to cover a few Poison songs adds the right amount of humor, and it wouldn't have hurt the band to try out a few more tongue-in-check songs. The new CD makes for an enjoyable listen, but don't expect to hear any big leaps musically from Reel Big Fish this time around.