If The Toasters only knew the third wave of ska would someday be crushed by a ‘Reel Big Fish’, Bucket and the boys might never have tried to bring the sound stateside. Ironically, similar trends seem to be pervasive in punk, as everybody’s favorite whipping boy Good Charlotte is most certain to be responsible for the death of the latest wave of punk. Fortunately in this case, folks like Against Me! are ready to move punk back into its logical direction. Yes, there is hope.
Mustard Plug is one of those bands that bring to mind ska and punk’s shared history. Back in the 2-Tone era of ska in Britain, the second wave was dominated by acts like The Specials, The Selecter and Bad Manners, all of which had taken the Caribbean sound of 1960s Jamaica and engrained it in the punk ethos that ruled their scene in the late 70s. Even back then, there was a loose marriage between the punk and ska styles. And as is customary in popular music, it wouldn’t be long before the style jumped the pond and found its way into American hands.
The evolution in the US was well on its way when West Coast acts NOFX, Green Day and All were influencing the direction of punk. At the same time, groups like Operation Ivy and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were showing the world what it would be like to truly blend both punk and ska. By the time the early ‘90s arrived, the sound couldn’t get more obvious. Skankin’ Pickle, Voodoo Glow Skulls, and the heroes of the Midwest wave, Mustard Plug, were catching fire as the third wave began to the slowly simmer.
Mustard Plug represents everything that was great and fantastic and wrong about third wave ska. The members dressed in goofy outfits (mustard yellow blazers … a good marketing ploy, if not stylish); they sang at times about inane subjects (Thigh High Nylons and Brain On Ska come to mind); and their mascot was – you guessed it – a big mustard bottle head.
Yes, Mustard Plug’s sound was incredibly catchy and quite easy to skank to, and you’ll get all that goodness packed into 15 best-of tracks with Masterpieces: 1991-2002. But the zaniness and wacky hijinks are, in many ways, the type of antics that signaled the third wave’s eventual death knell. The scene became less and less about social consciousness and punk rock attitudes and more about who can be goofier than the other.
Fortunately, Mustard Plug wasn’t Reel Big Fish. And despite their songs’ lack of socially redeeming value, the tunes still stand the test of time, bringing to mind countless evenings getting sweaty in the pit. Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up (sorry, couldn’t resist).