Sensational, no-frills sixth from Italian-German "Hooligan Reggae" quartet The Offenders
Boasting a fruitful decade building their reputation worldwide, self-dubbed “Hooligan Reggae” band The Offenders celebrate their 10th year with their sixth album, X. Formed in Southern Italy in 2005 shortly before relocating to Berlin, the group has become known for their uptempo blend of 80s ska, punk and rocksteady, peppered with authentic lyrics and a headstrong attitude. “I’ve been honest and loyal to myself and to our fans throughout the duration of The Offenders, and that’s never going to change,” states lead singer and guitarist Valerio who, alongside fellow founder member and drummer Checco, keys player Alex and bassist Puck, are looking to prosper over the coming months and years.
X kicks off with what is incidentally the group’s first single ‘Alles Muss Raus’ (Everything Must Go), and it is instantly apparent that it was a wise choice by the band on both accounts. Every second of the song is characteristic of that Offenders sound: rapid guitar stabs, bouncing bass lines, steadfast drums and just enough Hammond flourishes to colour without saturating. Although, as with previous albums, electing to sing in English almost constantly throughout, Valerio’s thickly-accented vocals adds a cocksure sneer to his voice that is all part of the fun. The lyrics are reassuringly down-to-earth as promised, punctuated with raucous gang choruses that are sure to get audiences hooked. The formula continues to work in The Offenders’ favour of the next two tracks, with the more sombre, Beats-esque ‘Harsh Reality’ and the fantastically-titled anti-party anthem “Tons Of Drunks And Party Scum.’
“I’ve been honest and loyal to myself and to our fans throughout the duration of The Offenders, and that’s never going to change” — Valerio
One of the album’s finest moments, ‘St. Pauli Swing Jugend,’ (St. Pauli Swing Kids) follows, celebrating the youth counterculture of WWII Germany, in particular those who would secretly meet up in dance halls across the country to enjoy jazz and swing music in direct opposition to Hitler’s Nazi regime, who outlawed the music of Western, predominantly black musicians. Culture remains the flavour of the month for the next couple of songs, ‘From The East Side To U.K.’ and ‘Martens Style.’ The latter, of course name-checking the iconic boots so popular in ska and punk circles alike, unfortunately doesn’t quite match up to those preceding lyrically. It’s an enjoyable song no doubt, but a little by-the-numbers. The political punk of ‘1000 Mal Vergessen’ (A Thousand Times Forgotten) is up next, followed by another one of the album’s highlights, ‘Society.’ A tale for just about any social misfit, the song really shows off Valerio’s ability as a guitarist, whilst Alex busts out an organ line that Jerry Dammers himself would be proud of. The Offenders tackle the matter of disillusioned youth in the jangle guitar-laden ‘Kids Like Me,’ whilst ‘Cheap Girl’ is a tad disappointing; it’s slapdash and hurried chorus never quite living up to it’s infectious, grooving verses.
“It’s safe to say that The Offenders have pretty much all the necessary components for a great modern day ska band”
However, X certainly doesn’t end on a low note, with ‘2-Tone Time’ being the most perfect song on the entire album. The Offenders bring the pace right down with a gloomy, Hammond-drenched intro before surging forward into a furious yet grieving riff, lifted by the more upbeat nature of the chorus, taking time for some scorching rockabilly lines mid-song. The album’s closer, ‘Screwed Up,’ is a comfortingly positive affair. Reassuring us that “Everyone screws up sometimes,” it is a rallying cry that sums up one of The Offenders’ principle messages superbly: despite our differences, we are all just people, we make mistakes but we’re all just trying to get by the best we can. It’s a good philosophy as a whole, and an excellent way to conclude the album.
It’s safe to say that The Offenders have pretty much all the necessary components for a great modern day ska band. Whilst the music of ‘X’ doesn’t take many risks, it’s hard to think of anything that could be added to improve it. The result is simple, memorable, and meaningful songs that are equally enjoyable and relatable to all. With tracks certain to provoke even measures of singing, skanking and merriment, the future of this fantastic group is certainly looking bright.