The Kickovers’ Osaka is the brainchild of former Mighty Mighty Bosstones guitarist Nate Albert, who handles vocal, guitar and songwriting duties and is supported by a rotating cast of characters including Bosstones drummer Joe Sirois and ex-Weezer bassist Mikey Welsh. Now I know what you’re thinking: “Man, didn’t ska stop being cool, like, five years ago?” Well fear not, because Albert’s one step ahead of you. Like your little brother, he’s moved on to greener pastures and, in his case, that means slickly produced, anthemic power-pop.
My initial reaction to Osaka was somewhat favorable (once I got past the opening song – a regrettable 15-second hardcore parody called “I’m Plastic”). It’s got the big hooks, thick, propulsive guitars and tireless energy level that have endeared today’s punk-pop to many a teenage heart. Unfortunately, these qualities alone do not make for a great album (only on the infectious “Put Me On” do they truly congeal into something special), and the album quickly loses its momentum, becoming more and more grating over the course of its 33 minutes. Albert’s songs are undeniably catchy, but too often they come off sounding forced and contrived for mainstream acceptance (note “Black and Blue,” which verges on plagiarism of Blink 182’s “What’s My Age Again?”). Likewise, his gruff sneer of a voice seems charming at first, but ultimately proves to be a pale, humorless imitation of Dicky Barrett’s amiable baritone. The playing, production and lyrics on this album are all respectable: Nothing revelatory, but nothing embarrassing. Osaka is essentially a competent pop-rock record with a respectable chance of making a dent in some modern-rock radio playlists. However, there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done better before and I can’t shake the feeling that the song “I’m Plastic” may be unintentionally prophetic. Barring an ingenious marketing scheme, Osaka is on its way to being just another forgotten slab of plastic taking up space in the used CD bin.