By Bryan Menegus, Staff Writer
Since its first vague mention in 2001, "99 Songs of Revolution"- the pet project of Tom Kalnoky, front man of Streetlight Manifesto, Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution, and former front man of Catch 22- has been the source of no small excitement for ska fans. How Kalnoky could write, produce and record nearly one hundred songs seemed a logical impossibility within any acceptable timeframe. But nine years later, the details unfolded: the project would be undertaken by both Streetlight and BOTAR, and two as-yet-to-be-named bands, and all of the songs would be covers, released in nine ‘volumes'. Not only is this a serious blow to the expectations for "99 Songs," but it means fans probably won't be seeing any original material from Kalnoky and Co. any time soon.
The covers list on Volume 1, as played by Streetlight Manifesto, spans fairly obvious 90's punk acts like NOFX, Bad Religion and The Dead Milkmen, with a few oddballs thrown in like Paul Simon and Radiohead. Streetlight takes a handful of (mostly) memorable songs and rearranges them into speedy, "skankable" renditions. It's a valiant effort, but by in large it falls flat. The cover of the Squirrel Nut Zippers' "Hell" is fairly enjoyable but doesn't add much to the original, and The Dead Milkmen's overtly silly "Punk Rock Girl" lends itself nicely to the inherent feel-good quality ska music excels at imparting. Unfortunately, those pedestrian two-steppers are the highlights and the other covers runs the gamut from bad to worse. Radiohead's "Just" is an unrecognizable splatter-canvas of sloppy horn lines, with Kalnoky's singing providing the clearest indicator that Streetlight are out of their element. Similarly, the NOFX cover, "Linoleum," is converted from a breakneck punk bullet to a reggae-style slow jam, utterly emasculated and devoid of all the qualities that made it a good song in the first place.
At least Tom Kalnoky is only ruining other people's songs, right? Wrong. To fill out the track list and the redundancy factor, Streetlight devotes a song of Volume 1 to covering "They Provide the Paint for the Picture-Perfect Masterpiece That You Will Paint on the Insides of Your Eyelids," originally by Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution, his other band. Not only is this the most unnecessary song of Volume 1, but the original is significantly better and did not ask a second rendition. Like many ‘revolutions,' "99 Songs" is too much hype and not enough positive change.