Ah, the music of my youth. The very first album I owned was Quantity is Job One by Five Iron Frenzy – a fantastic and fantastically short collection of pure nonsense that represented the last of the great third wave ska bands at their finest.
Never heard of ska? If you don’t want to take the time to read the Wikipedia article I just linked, the short version is, ska is punk rock meets swing. Ska bands tend to be large, and Five Iron Frenzy was no exception, sporting eight members, and typically include drums, electric guitar, bass, trumpet and one other brass instrument at a minimum. More guitar, brass and possibly a lead vocalist can be added for flavor. I think the sheer number of people needed to make a ska band work is one of the things that’s kept them from ever catching on in a meaningful way…
So, other than representing a kind of sound that you don’t hear every day, what makes Five Iron cool? Now that I’m a seasoned man of almost thirty, do they still hold up to my initial love from middle school? Why should you even care about a band that retired in 2003?
To handle each question one at a time. Five Iron Frenzy didn’t just write ska – they wrote ska with a purpose. Now if you’ve read this blog for any amount of time you know I love things done with a purpose, and Five Iron was always 110% devoted to whatever purpose they were pursuing, even when that purpose was just silliness.
To illustrate what I’m talking about, here’s a few of their songs from that great resource of the modern age, YouTube! First, a ditty of pure silliness extolling the greatness of our near neighbors:
Now a song with a bit of a more serious bent to it:
The contrast between these two songs does an excellent job of encapsulating what made Five Iron Frenzy a band worth listening to. They didn’t just write music or do a great job turning a phrase. They did an excellent job of making you care about what you were hearing about.
Sure, when I first encountered Five Iron I was mostly enamored of their silliness. What other band offers you greatness like “These Are Not My Pants, The Rock Opera”? None! But their sense of fun was accompanied by a sense of place and purpose, even when you’re not sure exactly what those places and purposes are. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize just how meaningful their songs about those ideas are. Certainly they’ve aged well. I suspect I’ll continue to find their music meaningful as I get older.
So why should you care? Simple! While Five Iron may have retired in 2003 they reunited in 2011 and kickstarted a new album which is slated for release on November 26th! I can’t even begin to say how excited I am for Engine of a Million Plots. After a ten year absence, I can’t wait to hear what they sound like. And if you’ve never heard of them, it’s a great place to start. Check it out and let me know what you think!