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

1 Comment

  1. The Fleshtones – Roman Gods (1982) – Punk Scrawled Artist said,

    […] you’ve ever wanted in a garage revival album, and more! ” allmusic W – Roman Gods Beat Patrol YouTube: Roman Gods (Live) YouTube: Roman Gods – The Fleshtones (Full […]

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