It’s hard not to root for the Cat Empire. On its second full-length, Two Shoes, the guitar-less six-piece from Australia translates the frenetic genre-blending energy of its live show to disc, losing little in the translation. Though the lyrics mimic the wordiness of G. Love and often veer into the self-referential territory of, say, late-’90s 311 (“Party Started”), the real focus-and strength-is the music. “The Chariot” mixes a streamlined reggae verse with an emphatic brass-section chorus: dorm-room-ready party music.
The Empire loses steam along the way (“The Night That Never Ends,” “Two Shoes”), and the band’s Latin vibe doesn’t always sit well, but songs like “The Car Song” and “Sly” (a shoo-in for the next iPod commercial) are reason enough to listen. Call-and-response verses, shouted choruses, syncopated drums and organ funk and the propulsive energy of Motown and Tina Turner and the Blues Brothers all thrown together make these album highlights. Swing and ska and their countless variations died out for a reason, but on Two Shoes, the Cat Empire’s relentless enthusiasm makes its genre-hopping sound less like a retro trend-revival and more like the potential future of feel-good soul music.