Brian Wilson – “Brian Wilson” (1988)

October 26, 2008 at 11:25 pm (Fran Fried, Reviews & Articles, The Beach Boys)

Another take on this debut solo album by Beach Boy mastermind Brian Wilson. This time written by Fran Fried in the July 24, 1988 edition of the Waterbury Republican.
I still remember the day I bought this album and I was actually moved to tears (of joy) by the simple fact that Brian was indeed BACK and creating such introspective, moving songs (such as “Melt Away” and “There’s So Many”). I had almost the same reaction as I did when I first fell in love with Pet Sounds ealier that year. The brilliance of Brian’s best work is simply breathtaking… 

 

The Lost Beach Boy Is Found

 

Tuesday night healing.

It can be an emotional experience as well as a positive one.

Three cases in point: Inside of the last two hours, I’ve 1) mended some long-disrepaired fences with an old girlfriend, 2) watched the tail-end of Jesse Jackson’s unifying speech at the Democratic Convention and 3) listened to Brian Wilson’s at-long-long-long-last solo album.

I won’t bore you with the details of the first thing and TV has already analyzed the second for you. Which leaves – since this is a music column – the album.

I thought I was a Beach Boys’ fan in high school, but it wasn’t until a college friend lent me David Leaf’s book “The Beach Boys & the California Myth” that I built an appreciation for Brian – and got a feel for the undertow of surf music that threatened to suck him under for good. Pet Sounds is the first and only album that ever put a lump in my throat on first listen. Its highly complex, sad, sensitive beauty is still unparalleled.

Anyway, that and the mythical Smile were the solo projects he should have released 20 years ago, but the rest of the group protested long and loud. So while Brian retreated to his sandbox, Denny, Carl and Mike got to put out their own solo records and live high off the carcasses of their early glories. No need to rehash the rest of the sordid tale.

Now, with the help of his friends – including mentor Dr. Eugene Landy and Warner Brothers’ Records president Lenny Waronker – the beauty that has been all but hermetically sealed inside that mind for two decades is working its way out again. And the timing couldn’t be any better.

At the same time that Brian is coming out of the cocoon, the influence of his mid- to late-‘60s music is being felt in a big way. Listen to the melancholy beauty of Pat DiNizio’s songs on the two Smithereens’ albums, especially Green Thoughts. Listen to the XTC/Todd Rundgren masterpiece Skylarking. Listen to The Dream Academy (whose Nick Laird-Clowes co-wrote a song on the album, “Walkin’ the Line,” with Brian). His presence has sneakily infiltrated its way into the public consciousness again without the need of a Sunkist commercial. And it’s prepared us for the real thing.

The new LP is as if there weren’t a 20-year gap. Unlike the sadness of Pet Sounds, most of the material here will leave you beaming with joy – both with the emotion of hearing an old friend again and the overall quality of the record – a happiness that any good spiritual healing should have.

The first song, the self-revelatory “Love and Mercy” (along the lines of “Busy Doin’ Nothing”), isn’t overpowering, but it grabs you and straps you in for the rest of the ride. The frailty is still there when he talks about the way of the world as he sees it. So are the delicate harmonic structures and a Phil Spector wall of rhythm. It’s a harbinger of a great many things to come.

The harmonies are as lavishly textured and the production as top-notch as one would expect from a person of his musical genius. And out of the 11 songs, only two – “Walkin’ the Line” (not enough meat) and “Night Time” (awkward blaring horns) miss the mark. The rest linger and start to grow on you.

“Melt Away,” another piece of revelation, lives up to its title, stripping away years of stagnation with an orchestrated barrage of harmonies, chimes and blocks. “Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long” is “Caroline No, Part II” combined with “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” and without the despair of either of those two songs. And Jeff Lynne meets his match on the collaboration “Let It Shine,” finally, the one-time force behind ELO has found someone that he can’t make sound like Jeff Lynne.

As for tributes, “Little Children” is bouncy and as childlike as the title implies, with chimes thrown in around a structure of “Mountain of Love.” “One for the Boys” is an a cappella “instrumental” tribute to his past, with the latter-day Brian wandering through a time-tunnel of early Beach Boy harmonies, it stands as two minutes of simple, elegant beauty. And “Meet Me in My Dreams Tonight” is pure Spector. Think of “Wait Till My Bobby Gets Home” by Darlene Love.

“Rio Grande,” the eight-minute piece which ends the album, is something unto itself. It’s one of those suites, the likes of which Brian was fond of putting together so long ago, along the lines of “Surf’s Up” and “Cool Cool Water.”

With its simple giddyup refrain, it doesn’t kick in for the first minute-and-a-half. Then, you come out of a water cascade into a banjo instrumental with the ocean as a backdrop, segue into a rain dance sequence and – surprise! The swirling, whirring, increasingly intense harmonies; it’s “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow” – the infamous “Fire” piece that so freaked Brian out 20 years back – only with vocal parts instead of strings. Then, you travel into a slow and forceful cascade, again with Spector overtones (and again think of Darlene Love, “Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry”).

The song then goes into some strings and some phantom “magic radio station” harmonies (like the obscure early-’70s fairy tale “Mount Vernon and Fairway”) before ending with a flourish of a refrain. This song is being hyped as a masterpiece. I won’t go that far, but it goes to show what Brian is and could be capable of doing in a megatrack studio, the likes of which he had never used before.

There are a lot of folks who have waited years – decades already – for this. And yeah, it’s occurred to me that since this album is so full of emotion, the effect could wear off. I don’t think so. Pet Sounds hasn’t. And I don’t think it’s going to be nearly as long until his next record. For in keeping with the healing process, this looks like a new start. And what a glorious start. Finally, all that “Brian’s Back” stuff we’ve heard sporadically over the years rings true.

Fran Fried

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The Replacements – “Pleased to Meet Me” (1987)

October 26, 2008 at 10:00 pm (David Fricke, Paul Westerberg, Reviews & Articles)

David Fricke’s review of The ‘Mats’ 1987 platter. This album still sounds as good as it did when it first came out. This review is from the July 2, 1987 issue of Rolling Stone  

 

When God was giving out self-confidence, where the hell was Paul Westerberg? Out buying beer? For someone so blessed with songwriting ability, the singer-guitarist seems unduly consumed with doubt about his own worth and that of the Replacements, his merry band of Minneapolis rock & roll idiot savants. “One more chance to get it all wrong … one more chance to get it half-right,” he bawled desperately in the semiautobiographical blitzkrieg “We’re Comin’ Out,” on the group’s 1984 album Let It Be.

The equally raucous “I Don’t Know,” on Pleased to Meet Me, the Replacements’ fifth full-length platter, is Westerberg’s latest ode to his own uncertainty. “One foot in the door/The other foot in the gutter,” he sings in his trademark rasp against the crude Stonesy gallop of drummer Chris Mars and bassist Tommy Stinson. While Mars and Stinson whine, “I don’t know,” like a stoned Greek chorus over the baritone sax of guest Steve Douglas, Westerberg details the tragicomic hopelessness of his dilemma and that of his vagabond band (“Our lawyer’s on the phone…. What did we do now?”). Too talented to play the fool, disgusted with showbiz protocol, he dreads the very success his undeniable gifts can bring. “The sweet smell that they adore/Well, I think I’d rather smother,” Westerberg snarls defiantly in the chorus. But near the end, when he asks, “Whatcha gonna do with your life?” a barely audible voice replies, with dreary resignation, “Nothin’.”

Pleased to Meet Me, like nearly everything in Westerberg’s oeuvre, is about not fitting in, about square pegs surrounded by nothing but round holes. What distinguishes Westerberg from the misfits populating his songs is his uncanny ability to speak for the tongue-tied, articulating their aspirations and insecurities with intuitive sensitivity, boozy whimsy and straight street talk – leavened with a little poetic license. As a lyricist, he is fond of the hilariously surreal (in “Can’t Hardly Wait,” he sings, “Jesus rides beside me/He never buys any smokes”), and he has a knack for dramatically potent non sequiturs (in “Shooting Dirty Pool,” he delivers the acidic put-down “You’re the coolest guy I ever have smelled”). As a melodist, he revels in a kind of perverted pop classicism, hanging his spiritual tensions and mischievous lyrics on offbeat hooks and change-up choruses like some grungy offspring of Randy Newman and Elton John; meanwhile, the band’s guitar-drums gunfire threatens to turn your brain to tapioca.

The result is an album alive with the crackle of conflicting emotions and kamikaze rock & roll fire. Nowhere on Pleased to Meet Me is that tortured vibrancy more evident than in “The Ledge,” a powerful study of teen suicide set to an urgent beat and death-knell guitar arpeggios. Westerberg makes no excuses here, no accusations. Instead, there is a haunting clarity in the face of eternal darkness, sympathy not just for the poor devil on the ledge but also for the people down below, whose help comes too late: “I’m the boy they can’t ignore/For the first time in my life I’m sure/All the love sent up high to pledge/Won’t reach the ledge.” There is no loss of life in the next song, “Never Mind,” but when Westerberg sings, “All over but the shouting,” in that hoarse bark of his, you can hear that same need to be understood, even as he walks away from an irreparably damaged relationship.

Life is not always a bed of nails in Replacementsville. “Red Red Wine” is a simple ode to the pleasures of the grape, a delightful rouser in the Mohawk party spirit of the band’s thrash classics Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash (1981) and Stink (1982). “Skyway” and “Can’t Hardly Wait” are both songs of gentle longing, the former inspired by the elevated walkways in downtown Minneapolis (“Oh, then one day/I saw you walkin’ down that little one-way/Where the place I catch my ride most every day/There wasn’t a damn thing I could do or say”) and played on acoustic guitars, which lend a heavenly grace. “Can’t Hardly Wait” is a touching snapshot of road weariness in which Westerberg falls into dreams of love and hearth on a sweet pillow of strings and soulful brass (“I’ll be home when I’m sleeping/I can’t hardly wait”).

But what fuels Pleased to Meet Me is the combination of Westerberg’s instinctive grasp of adolescent trauma and the band’s basement-rock fury, brilliantly produced by Memphis studio legend Jim Dickinson, who gets it warts and all, like the loud amplifier buzz that opens “Red Red Wine.” Indeed, the jewel in this collection of wonderfully rough diamonds is “Alex Chilton,” a frenzied celebration of the precocious frontman of the Box Tops and Big Star, who skidded into artistic paralysis in the late Seventies before hitting the comeback trail three years ago. (Chilton produced demos for the last Replacements LP, Tim, and plays guitar on “Can’t Hardly Wait.”) With Mars’s snare drum echoing like a rifle shot and his own guitar balled up into a clenched fist of distortion, Westerberg salutes Chilton’s genius with a knockout melody the equal of anything in the Big Star catalog while examining the insane pressure of living up to one’s own myth – “Children by the millions sing, ‘Will Alex Chilton come around?'”

Will children by the millions sing the same thing about Paul Westerberg in a few years’ time? Not likely. In the Replacements (now back to quartet strength with new guitarist Slim Dunlap replacing Tommy Stinson’s older brother, Bob, who left after Tim), Westerberg is blessed with a band of renegade realists, sometimes pickled out of their heads in concert but tough as nails in the clinch, anchoring Westerberg’s meditations in bar-band bedrock. Tracks like “I.O.U.” and “Shooting Dirty Pool” practically sound like Exile on Main Street at 78 rpm. It is ironic that Westerberg and the Replacements can make such a joyful noise out of so much anguish and insecurity. But on Pleased to Meet Me, the pleasure is all yours.

David Fricke

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The Doors – “L.A. Woman” (1971)

October 26, 2008 at 9:21 pm (Reviews & Articles)

Written by Richard Meltzer for Rolling Stone (issue #83), May 27, 1971. Meltzer was always an interesting guy. You were never really sure from anything he wrote, whether it was all just a big put-on or not. Even if he said he loved an album, you had to wonder if he was merely being sarcastic. Although he does appear to have liked this album.
He contributed many early lyrics to Blue Oyster Cult’s albums. He appears to have dropped off the radar for quite a few years now though…

 

Besides being heavy in their early days the Doors were funny too. Funnier than a fish. Who can ever forget those great Morrison ad libs like the one he once did during a lull in “Gloria” (“Little girl how old are you. little girl what school do you go to, little girl suck my cock”)? He was an earnest drinker, which of course helped. Now he’s drinking more than ever, hence there’s some material basis for all the laughs. And since heaviness has been kicked in the ass of late all the kickers owe it to themselves to sit down with this one. There isn’t one serious cut on the entire album.

Just consider the extent to which Jimbo’s snake and lizard obsessions contributed to the wanton slaughter of zillions of members of the earth’s reptile population for the sake of boots and belts. His influence on that and other fashion trends has to be considerable, an absurd fact considering how the man himself has been literally abandoned by the hippos of rock fandom during his darkest hours. Well now he’s taking no chances about being taken seriously or with universal import. In fact he’s not even writing his own snake lyrics anymore. Instead there’s John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling King Snake.” a whopper of a readymade and proof positive that he and his boy, are still listening to the roots, even after the death of Al Wilson (don’t forget that Canned Heat was once L.A.’s number one comedy band. On it Morrison demonstrates his final grasp of all the vocal chicanery only hinted at in flashes on “Love Street.” Which means he’s finally found complete security in caution-to-the-winds Hollywood lemonade singing, the mid-point between bubble gum and a good chance at being invited to sing an Oscar nomination at the 1972 Academy Awards.

And he’s even a fair-to-middlin’ blues gomper because for the first time he honestly doesn’t give a donut about how authentic or any of that the whole thing sounds. He was never actually Eric Burdon but his trans-racial bravado at least hinted at some intent in that direction. Now all the cards are on the table. Just check out “Cars Hiss by My Window” and compare it to the halfassed blues attempts of fellow Southern Californian Captain Beefheart and see who’s got the greater vestige of potentially galling pretentiously indulgent self-esteem. (If you don’t admit it’s the noble Captain then you can’t have much of a sense of either humor or fair play.)

And what’s more Jim’s backup band has finally reduced its approach to one of ping-ponging the essential free-as-air spirit the man’s been toying with ever since be abandoned Howlin’ Wolf for Mel Torme. In other words the Doors have never been more together, more like the Beach Boys, more like Love (the band they originally played second fiddle to at the Whiskey or the Troubadour or wherever it was). So when it’s Morrison setting the tone with lines like “Why did you throw the jack of hearts away?” on “Hyacinth House,” it’s Manzarek, Robbie and Densmore keeping the second-to-second ridiculousness going on and on with merrygoround tirades of utter mere pleasantness straight out of Derek and the Dominoes with even some Kokomo-classical fancy stepping thrown in for good measure. In terms of what they’re after here the Doors as a band never falter and there isn’t one bummer cut on the entire album obviously a first for them.

It’s also the first time since “The End” and “When the Music’s Over” that they’ve been able to pull off anything interesting in the way of long cuts. And there are two of them here, “L.A. Woman” (with maybe the best Chuck Berry riffs since the Stones and a hell of a lot more Sixties Seventies American flavor) and “Riders on the Storm” (signaling the return to Del Shannon from whence the Doors’ mysterioso-hood was largely derived to begin with), both of them minor monsters. And I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if “The WASP (Texas Radio & The Big Beat)” doesn’t showcase Morrison’s finest command of spoken jive to date, far superior to “Horse Latitudes” and a demonstration of lyric-supporting timing at least the equal of George Burns in his prime.

You can kick me in the ass for saying this (I don’t mind): this is the Doors’ greatest album and (including their first) the best album so far this year. A landmark worthy of dancing in the streets.


Richard Meltzer

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The Burgundy Runn – “Stop!” (1966)

October 26, 2008 at 9:00 pm (Garage Rock)

 

The song that I have known all these years in the version done by 1980s garage rock ’60s revivalists The Chesterfield Kings. I had never heard this original version but I can see The Kings certainly did this song justice. It makes me wonder how this catchy song never made it big. It’s almost a tragedy in fact.
This strangely-named band was very obscure. “Stop!” was released in 1966 on Lindy Blaskey’s Lavette label. I don’t know much else about them.

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The Chesterfield Kings – “Stop!” (1985) Plasticland – “Wonder Wonderful Wonderland” (1985)

October 26, 2008 at 8:23 pm (David Fricke, Music, Reviews & Articles)

 

David Fricke’s Aug. 24, 1986 review of these two ’60s-revival bands from issue #472 of Rolling Stone

There was a time not long ago when young, isolated, independent bands like these two – the garage-punk Chesterfield Kings from Rochester, New York, and the paisley-pop Plasticland from Milwaukee – had the Sixties revival all to themselves. At the turn of the decade, when the Human League was all the rage, they were cutting dynamite retrorock singles on shoestring budgets, re-creating with vibrant authenticity the fuzz-buster guitars and ragarock hooks of their favorite Chocolate Watchband and Blues Magoos records.

Today the strip mining of the Sixties mother lode is in full swing. But as time-warped rock & roll goes, the Kings are still tops when it comes to cloning the old revved-up teenage macho blues of the Standells and the Count Five. Singer Greg Prevost has one of the best imitation Mick Jagger-Sky Saxon snarls in the business, while rhythm Kings Rick Cona (snorting “Satisfaction”-style guitar), Orest Guran (guitar, wheezy Vox organ), Andy Babiuk (bass) and Doug Meech (drums) have honed their caveman stomp to Nuggets-like perfection.

Stop! is the band’s second full-length platter and features the Kings’ first serious attempts at songwriting. Actually, their own robust originals “She Told Me Lies” and “Cry Your Eyes Out” are almost indistinguishable from the forgotten frug-rock delights – such as “Stop” by the Burgundy Runn and the Golliwogs’ “Fight Fire” (a hot folk-punk gem from John Fogerty’s pre-CCR days) – that they cover here with such lusty vigor. That, however, should be taken as the highest compliment. In their expert evocation of the Sixties garage-rock sound, the Chesterfield Kings are celebrating, not just an era, but the fighting spirit and manic crunch at the root of all classic rock & roll. The Kings may be living in the past, but Stop! is full of timeless energy.

The same goes for Plasticland’s Wonder Wonderful Wonderland, its second LP as well. This delightfully foppish quartet sets the Wayback Machine for 1967. Singer Glenn Rehse and bassist John Frankovic, the band’s principal writers, diligently reassemble the baroque dementia of Syd Barrett’s original Pink Floyd and the Pretty Things’ classic psych-opera S.F. Sorrow with their own druggy modal drones and fanciful lyrics. They’re damn good at it, too. The wiggy processional “No Shine for the Shoes” and “The Gingerbread House,” with its train-whistle mellotron and Dan Mullen’s wobbly circular guitar riff, are precision acid pop. Still, there is real power behind the pose. “Flower Scene,” the band’s loving tribute to a Sixties pop fanzine, is like a heavy-metal Byrds in the bar-band chop of its electric-folkie guitars, while Mullen’s guitar-fuzz fests in “Fairytale Hysteria” and the instrumental reprise of “Gloria Knight” sounds like Hüsker Dü in Pepperland. 

So what if the Chesterfield Kings and Plasticland can’t really bring the Sixties back. They give it their best shot here. Certainly Stop! and Wonder Wonderful Wonderland are the next best thing to being there. 

 

David Fricke

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The Lyres – “Not Like the Other One” (1984)

October 26, 2008 at 8:14 pm (Garage Rock)

Jeff “Mono Man” Connolly & co. from The Lyres’ debut long-player On Fyre. This is not their best song but just about everything these guys came out with was great. My favorite album of theirs is still their 2nd one, Lyres Lyres, probably because that was the album that I first bought from them.
The Lyres were one of the leading purveyors of the 1980s garage rock revival.

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Maxayn – “Tryin’ for Days” (1972)

October 26, 2008 at 8:06 pm (Funk)

This obscure soul singer recorded three albums for Capricorn Records (home of The Allman Brothers) in the early 70s. Maxayn Lewis never made it big but this song shows that she deserved a better fate.    

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Merl Saunders – “Aunt Monk” (1974)

October 26, 2008 at 7:53 pm (Funk)

Taken from his self-titled Fantasy Records release, comes this jazzy funk tune from frequent Jerry Garcia collaborator, organist Merl Saunders.
Sadly, Mr. Saunders passed away today at the age of 74 due to complications from a stroke. This is posted here in tribute to this very talented & unsung artist. May he rest in peace…

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The Full Time Men – “Your Face My Fist” (1988)

October 26, 2008 at 7:03 pm (Fran Fried, Reviews & Articles)

Written by Fran Fried for the Waterbury Republican, Nov. 27, 1988. The Full Time Men were an offshoot of “super rock” purveyors The Fleshtones, which Mr. Fried turned me onto with their own 1987 classic Fleshtones vs. Reality album…   

 

Full Time Men, a.k.a. Fleshtones, Churn Out a Classic

 

The Fleshtones, New York’s meisters of “super rock” (their term for their exquisite soup of ‘60s garage rock and R&B), arguably, are America’s best band, which is why they’ve been my favorite group for years.

But they haven’t quite shown it on record, if nobody has dragged you to one of their full-tilt, all-out, non-stop sweat and beer-soaked live gigs, you might not believe me. Heck, their live LPs (Speed Connection I and II) have been awful. And only twice have they come close to capturing their spirit on vinyl – on the 1981 album Roman Gods and last year’s Fleshtones vs. Reality.

Now, they’ve finally done it, under an assumed name. If you only buy a couple of albums a year, make this one of them. And that’s not coming from a fan shilling for his favorite band – that’s coming from someone who is usually desperate for anything that resembles decent rock ‘n’ roll, period.

Actually, it’s one of the numerous offshoot bands; this one, led by guitarist Keith Streng, consists of four-fifths of the ‘Shtones (Gordon Spaeth on sax and harp, Robert Warren on bass, Bill Milhizer on drums) plus Lower East comrade Rich Thomas on guitar. Frontman Peter Zaremba only pops up twice.

Streng started this act three years ago as a collaboration with R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, releasing a well-done three-song EP. This time around, he’s assembled a dream-team lineup; popping up here and there are Buck, Pat Dinizio of the Smithereens, Dave Faulkner of the Hoodoo Gurus, Jeff Conolly of the Lyres and Stiv Bator, onetime Dead Boy and Lord of the New Church. And Igor, they’ve created a monster.

The only carryovers from the original EP and original sound are “I Got Wheels,” a lilting downhome Southern pause, and “Southern Twitch,” a Part II of the EP’s gem, “Way Down South” and a stomping live staple of theirs.

The rest is pure adrenalin. With the opening notes of “Nothing’s Ever Gonna Stop Our Train,” with dense bottom-end guitars churning and Spaeth blowing furiously into his harp and all their voices coming at you at once, this frantic-paced song just knocks you out of your sofa and puts you through the nearest wall. This is as good as they’ve ever been.

And there’s more. “High on Drugs” has a pounding Chris Clements piano line, plus blaring voices and sax that make it sound more like a raucous beer session than a studio session. “Critical List,” a fossil from the very first Fleshtones album (the Blast Off cassette) 12 years ago, doesn’t sound as scattered as it did originally, but it’s fuller, brassier (with horns) and more desperate. And “Baby Don’t You Do It” doesn’t have the Motown polish of Marvin Gaye’s original; instead, it’s been turned into a more deliberate, head-swinging soulful-bluesy ‘60s Fleshtones-Lyres stomp, egged on by Conolly’s Hammond-organ line.

But the best of the whole bunch – OK, maybe it’s a tossup with “Train” – is “Full Time Men.” It begins innocently enough, with “Avon calling” tubular door chimes. Then – beware – the door opens and the explosion takes place. It’s an ominous, grinding, bottom-heavy stomp (perfect for cruising around with your car windows down and the tape deck on 11), which leads into a classic shouter of a refrain.

“Get the job done with the Full Time Men!” they shout at you. And if you want it done right, you’ll listen to them. If you can’t hear the wildest outfit in rock ‘n’ roll live, this is the absolutely next best thing.

Fran Fried

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The Fleshtones – “Roman Gods” (1981)

October 26, 2008 at 6:57 pm (Reviews & Articles)

Greg Shaw’s 1981 review of The Fleshtones’ first long-playing album – from his own Bomp! magazine…

 

The Fleshtones are to the ’60s what the Blasters are to the ’50s: a perfect representation of American music. England may have it all over us in fashion (by which I mean not only clothes, but the whole process of flashy new fads, ceaseless turnover of new faces, new sounds, new images, all exciting but at the same time superficial, lacking in depth, and forgotten within two years or so) but for musical substance, sounds that last forever because they were on the beam to start with, one thinks first of American music.

They’re not a ’60s revival band, like the Chesterfield Kings for instance, though in looks (without really trying, they look like a lot of my friends did in ’66), attitude, and the kind of sound they obviously are hearing in their heads and hoping to hammer into ours, they are of course heavily influenced by all those great high-energy 45s of the mid-’60s, not just the Standells but Mitch Ryder, Rascals, Raiders, and every other group that made powerful, gutsy records.

Roman Gods has a great production sound that’s loud and clear while still sounding as thick and punchy as those old records. To me, the stuff you hear today may be music, but a record is something else, some manical artifact from a wonderful place, call it “Record Land,” and it’s special. Whether the label says Motown or Kinks on Reprise or Animals on MGM, they all jumped out of the radio as a big thick crunchy mass of sound. Engineers will tell you that’s just because they were made on primitive equipment, but ask them to give you that sound anyway, and they can’t do it. Making real records is an almost lost art, which the Fleshtones have made a tremendous breakthrough in rediscovering.

It’s hard to call this ’60s music, despite the common sensibilities. Yeah, there are tambourines and maracas, harp solos, and even a fabulous fuzz-bass like you never hear anymore. These things all contribute to the total sound, but the songs come down to the band’s own style, which is heavily punked-up blue-eyed R&B, whether they’re covering Lee Dorsey’s “Ride Your Pony” or offering an original like “R-I-G-H-T-S.”

You could say it’s ’60s sounds for the ’80s, the way the Stray Cats do ’50s music for today. The ’50s are such a central influence on modern youth, it’s time rock’s other classic era was rediscovered. The Fleshtones are making the contemporary appeal of garage punk tangibly evident.

On stage, the Fleshtones have so much energy it’s scary, and though they look as regular as any ’60s high school band (you can easily picture them in white levis or madras shirts), no patented sex symbols here – yet they look and act very sexy on stage, in a way – theirs is no act, in fact, it comes across clearly as honest joy in the honestly exciting music they’re making. Singer Peter Zaremba is fabulous, as he dances around, doing the swim or the jerk, or some dance he just made up, an occasional inept spin, almost falling down, stumbling back to the mike just in time to snarl out the next verse. The guitars, by Keith Streng, are full and solid, understated but playing exactly the right notes, and sounding bigger than life – sorta like Ivy’s playing in the Cramps.

This kind of performance requires songs that allow the band to show off just how cool they are, so they’ve written some real boss tunes, with plenty of opportunity for Peter to do his soul screams, a solid rockateen beat, and guitar riffs as gnarly as all those unforgettable ones in songs like “Kicks” and “Dirty Water.” And strangely, for a band like this, there are lots of instrumentals, most with guitar and sax, and even more in their live show. They get a great groove going, but for me I’d rather hear more songs like “The Dreg” where a long instr. intro is followed by a “Gloria”-style vocal & chorus ending.

All the songs are bitchin’ but my faves are all on side one. Following “The Dreg” is “I’ve Gotta Change My Life” which draws both from “Baby Come Back” and “Why Pick on Me” and has Zaremba’s classic organ backing. The groove is so strong it knocks you over, with handclaps boosting already-sharp drum cracks. Then right into “Stop Fooling Around” with its totally groovy reverb guitar, and then the ultimate killer, “The World Has Changed.”

They pull out all the stops on this one, roaring guitar riffs and screaming harp with frantic maracas, a wall of sound as dense as anything you have heard, and a double-whammy ending that just slays me. Wow!

A band like the Fleshtones could only come from America. They’re one of the best we’ve got and it’s just beyond me how anyone could listen to stuff like Adam & the Ants when this band is alive. Okay, so I’m biased. I love rock & roll, I love music that comes from the gut, and I love this band.
 

Greg Shaw

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