The Pirates Charles
Sometimes it seems as if there’s three kinds of music in this world – good music, bad music, and pirate music. The Pirates Charles’ album LIVE Scalliwaggs would entirely qualify as pirate music.
It’s certainly an oversimplification with more exceptions than rules, but for argument’s sake let’s assume that pirate music differs from good music in that it lacks much of the polish and harmony that is generally considered necessary to make a song worth listening to. But it differs from bad music in that, while rough and raw, it’s still strangely catchy and easy on the ears. And that’s the Pirates Charles.
With the first song, Take Me to Cat Island, The Pirates Charles come across as jovial and shameless in their performance. The recording has a few technical hiccups in the quality, and the music and vocals are entirely jagged, but these are vastly overshadowed by the sheer enthusiasm of the song. What’s more, The Pirates Charles’ rough presentation is so wonderfully perfect that it’s hard to believe it isn’t secretly (and masterfully) contrived. These are not dashing rogues or classy entertainers – these are smelly, smelly pirates, and yet you want to party with them just the same. And, you certainly want to sing along.
The second track, Pirates Charles Anthem, is a bit more aggressive than was the first, and it really works. A prideful song about how awesome it is to be a Pirate Charles, and how being anything else just sucks in comparison. Later songs go on to range all over the place – some songs fast, some slow. Some happy, some somber (but never sober.) Many are R rated and irreverent (Castrate the Governor, Man with Fuller Pants, Cat Island Whores) while others take a different approach. Master and Commander particularly stands out. Where most of the songs on the album truly push the envelope of crusty, shanty punk, Master and Commander takes a much more lyrical tack. Actually sung (rather than melodiously yelled), it brings strong phantoms of Tendacious D and makes for a wonderful change of pace.
Rowmans Row is another song that stands out. Haunting guitars and drums introduce brutal cries of “stroke”, which contrast well with the forboding vocals detailing the Norsemen’s seemingly endless journeys across the sea. The lyrics suit the content, but this song also goes one better in conjuring a true, woeful atmosphere of iceburgs and eternal rowing.
At 17 tracks, this album is an abundance of piratey brilliance. Most of the songs come from the rough, scratchy, banjo and guitar school of music – sometimes jiggy, sometimes aggressive, and sometimes adventurous. While truly unique songs (compared to the rest of the album) such as Master and Commander and Rowmans Row are a rarity – and stand out all the more because of it – the remainder are still surprisingly diverse in pace, content, and attitude. That such a primitive facade can conceal music so entirely engrossing is a major feat. Oft times a true pirate song requires a good dose of rum to be enjoyable, but with LIVE Scalliwaggs, you feel drunk from the music alone (although on principle, rum is still recommended.)