Question the Answers (Mercury)
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

By Bob Bahr

Curious.

The Bosstones have a reputation for being a party band, but the ponderous mood and circumspect lyrics of Question the Answers are a bit dark. There are decidedly danceable elements – the horn section adds pointed hits, and the rhythm section will unexpectedly pull back for a loping reggae or charged ska groove. But the emphasis here is on an intense wall of guitars and Dicky Barrett's shredded, phlegmy vocals. Perhaps punks with esoteric taste will cling more quickly to this high-energy effort.

This is a loud record, one that will carry way down the dorm hallway. The lyrics, which are happily reproduced in the liner notes, display a literate angst and socially aware conscience. It's pretty heavy, and not quite as boozy as one would think. Sounding like a tighter, bouncier Plugz, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones blur hardcore intensity (especially "365 Days") with playful sauciness (like the killer lounge ode "Hell of a Hat").

The onslaught grows tiresome over the record's 40 minutes, perhaps due to the deference to electric guitars and horn parts that show limited imagination. The piano run at the end of the nostalgic "Toxic Toast" and the '40s-style backing vocals of "Hell of a Hat" hint at a sense of musical humor and versatility. But things quickly settle back into the in-your-face guitar chug and slash. The album closer leaves the listener on a surprisingly good note; "Jump Through Hoops" has a vocal melody that stays with you, and blue-collar lyrics that stick to your ribs. It's a hopeful send-off, certainly not because of the lyric's content, but rather due to the potential it heralds.

Alas, Question the Answer only hints at the potential, rather than mining it. Bosstone fans may dig this record, but only folks willing to sit thoughtfully with the lyrics sheet will join the ranks.