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.
- Start the Machine
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