Skafish – Skafish (Remastered 2019 Reissue)

Pop music has probably created more sicko incels than the internet ever will. That might be a necessary evil, though. Consider this lost album from 1980 that’s come back to life just in time to serve as a better origin story than we got with Todd Phillips’ Joker – although the film has a sturdier connection to punk rock. Jim Skafish ended up as a new-wave artist simply by being signed to IRS Records. It was good a niche as any for the Chicago act, although his band played more like prog-rockers who could back Andy Williams on short notice.

Skafish was an impressively ugly album, though – and not just because of the singer’s creepily androgynous pose on the cover. At least half the record was made up of catchy temper tantrums. “Work Song” is the most likely lost classic as a high-energy rant pitying average guys who “work all day in a steel mill” because they “can’t find a better job.” It’s an expertly tuned song for frightening the young intelligentsia into a superiority complex. Sadly, there’s plenty of demand for that even with Millennials envying Al Bundy’s fabulous life of steady employment.

“We’ll See a Psychiatrist” and “Disgracing the Family Name” get a lot more personal as frantic adolescent psychodrama worthy of John Waters. “Joan Fan Club” is a disturbingly intimate take on high-school bullying, and “Obsessions of You” makes for a melodic and stalkerish meltdown. All that could’ve gotten wearying if the album’s other tunes didn’t include touching ballads such as “Maybe One Time,” where Skafish wallows in his miserable life being forever alone.

As noted, there’s nothing underground about that. Skafish’s truly strange indulgence was sweating to the oldies with retro ruminations like “Romantic Lessons” and “Guardian Angel.” (The reissue’s only art-school freakout is the baby-killing craziness of “Sink or Swim,” which was originally wisely relegated to a B-side.)

There’s a bizarre aftermath, of course. The new “Sign of the Cross” allowed Skafish to join the few acts making an impression in the 1982 concert film Urgh! A Music War. The label reportedly still passed on Skafish’s initial follow-up, and he came back with 1983’s Conversation – filled with disco beats and a sincere ditty entitled “Bad Feelings Have Died.” Conversation wasn’t a bad record, but seemed calculated to decimate Skafish’s already small following.

It’s also worth noting that there’s now a bigger message to Barbie Goodrich’s chirpy intro to Skafish. The opening track had the beautiful blonde giddily reminiscing about how she “was very popular” in high school, and that now she’s “just waiting to fall in love with the right person…then, everything will be wonderful.”

Sadly, Barbie would actually be dead from cancer by 1995. It’s a tragedy that could’ve happened to either a real-life oblivious cheerleader or a wholesomely hip gal smart enough to play Skafish’s foil. That might be the best moral to be found in all this. It’s not an entertaining moral, but certainly brings yet more relevance to a bitter artifact heading into its forties.

Skafish (Remastered 2019 Reissue)