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About a year ago, I predicted that Christian ska was on its way out. Don't get me wrong — I love ska music in doses, but I get tired of listening to an entire album of caffeinated reggae/punk with a brass section thrown in. And since these ska albums were filled with similar sounding songs throughout, I suspected these bands would have nowhere else to go but repeat themselves and eventually fade away. But I've been proven wrong. The Supertones surprised me with their previous release, Chase the Sun, because they showed a remarkable diversity in their music (reggae praise, acoustic pop, etc.) that was not as noticeably present on their other albums. The Insyderz also showed remarkable diversity on their Skalleluia Too CD. And Five Iron Frenzy? Well, there's never a dull moment with Five Iron …
Unfortunately, the artistic growth that the Supertones demonstrated before is not present on their new release, Loud and Clear. In fact, it's almost too similar in sound to their second album — one might call this new one Supertones Strike Back Again: The Sequel. Even the opening track, "Escape From Reason," is reminiscent of the opening to Strike Back. I suspect fans of the band felt that Chase the Sun was too lightweight and demanded a return to the harder edge found on their earlier albums. With Loud and Clear, the band seems louder than ever by occasionally dabbling with the hardcore sound that is so popular today, featuring some heavy guitar and rapping on "Escape From Reason," "Pandora's Box," and "Return of the Revolution." There's also some more slow-paced songs, like "Father's World" and "Lift Me Up," but they sounded a little too much like their previous hit "Away From You."
Performance-wise, the Supertones are still rock solid. Matt Morginsky's vocals sound more confident than ever, especially when his voice jumps around on "Father's World" and the breathless, rhythmic singing on the chorus of "Wilderness." Jason Carson's drumming is also as proficient as ever, not to mention the horns, guitar, and bass. There's really nothing specifically wrong with Loud and Clear, and if you're looking for more of the stuff that made the Supertones such a fresh breath of air three years ago, you won't be disappointed. I'm sure many also feel that the band shouldn't fix something that isn't broken. Though Loud and Clear is overflowing with energy and strong musicianship, to me it sounds tired, formulaic, and less catchy (with a few exceptions of course). Maybe I'm just expecting too much of them. I'm pulling for the Supertones, hoping they make an effort in the future to keep pushing ska to its limits and beyond.