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Hard Side: Fu Manchu - Start the Machine
By Travis Becker

Unlike the style of mustache with which they share a name, Fu Manchu are no more stylish today than they were ten years ago when they began to fine tune the skate-punk meets desert baked metal, muscle car sound, they’re still driving today.  

Well, it’s semi-yearly inspection time again and John Elway doppelganger, Scott Hill, and the rest of Fu Manchu have emerged from the labyrinthine beaches and drained swimming pools of Southern California with a new album, Start the Machine.  Despite the dubious connotations of that title, the refugees of Dogtown have fled the ruins of stoner rock with their freshest album in years.

Fans of the band fear not.  The instantly recognizable Fu Manchu sound is fully intact. The warm fuzz of Hill’s guitar is a familiar greeting and the vocals, delivered with absolutely no effort to actually sing, let you know all is well.  Still, something about this record is different enough to avoid tagging them with the familiar criticism that all of their albums sound the same.  The general radio-friendliness of 2002’s California Crossing has given way to a slightly slower tempo and a somewhat angrier band.  On tracks like, “Open Your Eyes”, Fu Manchu espouses a frustration heretofore unheard on any of their releases.  The songwriting also displays a different, more personal approach than is customary for Fu Manchu leading one to guess that they must have run out of songs about vans.  Truly this dearth of car songs is our loss as listeners, but the change of pace is refreshing.

Musically though, it’s less MC5 and more Kyuss for the first time in many years for the band.  Visiting some of the outer space territories the band used to frequent in its infancy, “Out to Sea” even sounds a little Floydian.  Fu Manchu has finally taken a Vans slip-on clad foot off of the accelerator and made some space within the album to stretch out.  This breathing room makes it a much easier record to sink into than the structurally compact, California Crossing.  The songs are still strong, but they work together more efficiently on this release, building a strong sense of momentum that is pays off big time in the closing songs of the album, particularly, It’s All the Same” and “I Wanna Be”.  Finally, I would be remiss in not mentioning the exceptional soloing of lead guitarist, Bob Balch.  He remains the secret weapon in a band not known for virtuoso playing.

Fu Manchu survived the collapse of so-called “stoner rock” and continue to establish themselves as one of the more consistent bands that did so.  While Start the Machine is a solid album that will appeal band’s many fans, it’s hard to imagine them converting anyone who didn’t like any of their previous efforts.  Then again, not everyone looks that good in a mustache anyway.

CD Info 

Fu Manchu - Start the Machine
Label: DRT Records
Written In Stone
I Can't Hear You
Make Them Believe
I'm Gettin' Away
Out To Sea
Open Your Eyes
Today's Too Soon
It's All The Same
Tunnel Vision
I Wanna Be
Listen to samples and Purchase this CD online

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