Sunday, March 11, 2012

Album of the Moment - Fu Manchu's "The Action is Go"

Some music collections are ever-changing, as tastes change or trends come and go.  Most people have short attention spans when it comes to music, save for a handful of favorite bands/artists, a few favorite songs, or perhaps a lone favorite album that they have an emotional connection to.  I, on the other hand, have a largely static collection that merely grows with my ever-expanding tastes and with time.  If I don't like a CD I don't generally get rid of it unless I'm hard up for cash, and that has only happened a couple times.  In 2004, I was hard up enough for cash that I ended up selling off some 200 of my then 600-CD collection.  Shame, really, as many of the CDs I sold off were excellent, and a couple of them will cost me a pretty penny to replace at some point.  One of the discs I regretted selling for so long was Fu Manchu's 1997 gem "The Action is Go".  It's still the only Fu Manchu release I ever owned, but only because I was afraid perhaps their other material wouldn't match up to this album.

So I recently re-purchased this, still sealed for just under six bucks, which I thought was a fantastic deal.  Listening to this again, it's as engaging and enjoyable as I remember it.  Fuzzed out guitar tone that belies the heaviness of the whole thing with driving riffs in some songs, while others have this lackadaisical tempo and tone to them that it feels like just a bunch of guys chilling out while rocking out.  Their music is deceptively simple, in many respects.  Lots of riff repetition, choruses that repeat themselves, or key bits in each song that are easily grasped hooks you can sink your teeth into.  There's a sense of dynamics at work here, however, that is perhaps less obvious at first, or on casual listens.  It's not quite as immediate as the loud-soft dynamic that Nirvana perfected, but along those lines.  Fu Manchu makes their shift in dynamics less polarized, so they don't appear to be quite as "dynamic" in nature.  But rest assured, these guys know what they're doing - they know exactly the kind of song they're writing when they've sparked your interest just enough to reel you in completely by the time the slightly more muscular chorus kicks in and you're tunelessly singing along.

The thing about Fu Manchu is that it's a formula that shouldn't necessarily work but does.  Vocally, this stuff is fairly a-tonal.  Not all of it, but I've heard hardcore punk bands with more melodic sensibility in the vocal lines than this stuff.  But Scott Hill's semi-sung, semi-yelled vocals have a sort of charm to them, so they're engaging nonetheless.  The fuzz guitar tone is fantastic, and though this band belongs to the "stoner rock" genre based on their style, the lyrics of this album belie any substance references in the lyrics, and musically they owe as much to early hardcore punk as they do to Black Sabbath or Candlemass.  It's an interesting marriage of the sedate and the energetic elements of the styles they converge which makes their sound vital.

In any event, I'm glad to finally have this CD back in my collection, and will be on the lookout for a vinyl version.  I'm also interested in scoring a European copy, since that release had 2 bonus tracks which don't appear on the North American release.  This has been spinning in my van's stereo for the last week and will continue to do so for a short while until I move on to other things, but like an old friend coming to visit after years of being away, this album is a welcome visitor to my CD player once again.

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