The "third-wave" pop-ska movement is the best thing to hit top-40 radio in years. Bands such as No Doubt, Smash Mouth and Save Ferris have rediscovered the pleasure of linking a chirpy melody and a bouncy beat so tightly that you can't pull them apart. And the fact that the beat is a Jamaican syncopation uncontaminated by baby-boomer or hip-hop associations makes the music sound all the fresher. Some may complain that the sing-along melodies water down authentic ska, but the whole point of top-40 radio is transforming roots musics with ear-candy hooks.
"Modified," the follow-up to Save Ferris's 1997 breakthrough, "It Means Everything," is brimming over with radio-ready pop hooks. On "Mistaken," an infectious kiss-off to an ex-lover, the melody and the rhythm team up for a breathless race from start to finish. There's a pronounced island feel to "I'm Not Cryin' for You," but the vocal echoes the girl-group gems of the early '60s.
The California septet features a three-man horn section that reinforces the groove as effectively as the three-man rhythm section. But the band's biggest asset is opera-trained lead singer Monique Powell, who sounds like the resilient survivor of heartbreak even as she makes every note ring like a bell. When she cries, on "Turn It Up," "When I hear that song, I turn it up and I sing along," she is anticipating the reaction of thousands of teenagers to her own album.
Appearing Saturday at the 9:30 club with 22 Jacks and Stroke 9.
To hear a free Sound Bite from Save Ferris, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8128. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)