Some seventeen years ago, the first time I saw Cherry Poppin' Daddies (the first time I ever saw any band), it was an opening slot for Sweaty Nipples. Close-in southeast Portland was a bit different those days—sallow proto-hipsters withering on the vine, SHARP/skinhead dialectic an actual concern, small-city hopelessness tangible as weapons are tangible—but, however vivid, the characters and set-dressing at least resembled what television had suggested. The Daddies...the Daddies didn't make any sense at all.
Sunken whippet frontman channeling Sammy Davis theatrics and Dorothy Parker lyricism, crack instrumentalists shifting from violent thrash-funk riffage to thoroughly respectful horn-led "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," and, throughout, the roiling pit embraced every eccentricity. It all seemed a too-garish extrapolation of swing-era sermons—the apocalypse would feature scat. I spent much of my college years trying to explain that genre-bending pop-fever-dream and, actively, wished for a world where everyone understood what I meant.
In 1999, I walked out of the Vegas airport to a billboard announcing the Daddies' casino residency. That was a stupid wish.
End of the day, swing dancing makes sense as phenomenon—difficult, over-structured un-fun has always appealed to a certain sort of American—and, to be sure, the Daddies were leagues above their contemporaries. Lord knows, ploughing discarded genres, they deserved the pay-day. And, just the same, deserved the backlash. Turns out context was important; absent aggro mosh, over-cranking your grandfather's dance music seemed a bit shrill and a lot pandering.
The subsequent turn to ska only underlined their essential artifice and, well, most anybody could do ska—cleverness and rare facility overcame their more grating elements. For years, they'd disappeared completely, and beyond wedding DJs and nostalgia-porn, I never thought I'd hear the Daddies again.
"Blood Orange Sun," first single from their upcoming sixth album, doesn't exactly represent a return to salad days. Theatric Steve Perry vocals above enervated off-beat and cruise ship atmospherics; it is, though, clever. And, reason or no, adult-contempo ska (one can't imagine the song done any other way) is sorta new. It's supposedly one chapter of a genre-spanning Ulysses-referencing concept album. Off-putting, I know, and inexplicable, but...there are worse career paths. Try and get gutterpunks slam-dancing to Andrew Sisters' covers, say; see how far that gets you.
Cherry Poppin' DaddieSpace
Sweaty Nipples in PDX