Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Fleshtones - Roman Gods and Hexbreaker!

Their first actual release, Roman Gods, was really the 2nd album that they recorded. Blast Off! was supposed to be released on Red Star Records previously, but that never happened and it wasn’t released until a couple of years after this as a ROIR cassette.

But Roman Gods is a damn amazing debut! Starting out with “The Dreg” you know what you’re in for right away! Cowbells, fuzz bass, fuzz guitars, a rockin’ beat, kinda buried vocals – this shows them at their garagey-est!

“I’ve Gotta Change My Life” is one of their many manifestos – keyboard driven, with group vocals and cool lyrics from singer Peter Zaremba about having a “master plan” and not backing down! Damn catchy too! More great riffs, stompin’ beats, starts and stops, a Yardbirds-styled rave-up and general coolness abound in “Stop Fooling Around!”

“Hope Come Back” actually sounds sorta romantic (apparently about guitarist Keith Streng’s then-wife) and gives another call and answer chorus. Then comes the star of the album – “The World Has Changed”. Wow! Great song, great arrangement, cool dynamics, nice harp riffs, heavy guitar tone – overall, just fantastic! I’m not sure whether the lyrics are for or against the garage scene that was starting at this time, but whatever it is, it all works! This was their first single from the album, backed with a phenomenal version of “All Around the World” with bassist Marek soulfully singing/shouting the chorus! It only proves that there is no justice in the world that this 45 never broke the band! That should have been a hit!

Side 2 of the album starts out with the ravin’, reverb-drenched “R.I.G.H.T.S.” with yet more wild call-and-response singing – they knew how to write tunes that the audience could easily sing along with! “Let’s See the Sun” is a throw-away pop tune and very unlike anything that the band ever did. I can only imagine that it must have been a misguided attempt at a “hit” that failed because it really didn’t have much to do with the group – one of the few songs of theirs that I don’t care for.

But they redeem themselves immediately with their 3rd version of “Shadow-Line”, another one of their greatest songs. I loved this song the first time that I heard them play it – super memorable guitar lick, shouted “heys!” and intelligent lyrics. I don’t think that any of the recorded takes really did it justice, though my fave is probably from the Red Star 2x5 compilation. This one is damn good, too, but a little slow – I heard the rumor that they were playing songs so fast in the studio cuz they were speeding that they made a concerted effort to slow it down and I feel that they went a little far.

“Chinese Kitchen” is a fine, though slightly forgettable instrumental, but that goes into a super version of “Ride Your Pony” that was taken as the second single from the record. They actually played it on American Bandstand, along with the closer title track, a mostly-instrumental, sax-driven, bass-popping, shout-along. This was one of the first of their communal songs that they would close the set with while walking off the stage and snaking through the audience and often out of the building!

Their 2nd album with IRS, Hexbreaker!, starts less than auspiciously with “Deep In My Heart” – good, but not great by Fleshtones’ standards. “What’s So New (About You)” though is a fuzz rocker with more chanting and is classic ‘Tones material, complete with caustic lyrics and some musical throw-backs to “The World Has Changed”.

A true over-the-top stomper is “Screamin’ Skull” with more fuzz drenched guitar, a progression reminiscent of “Stepping Stone”, a whacked-out solo and it sounds pretty damn drug influenced (supposedly the title is a nod to the amphetamines they were doing).

Saxophone player Gordon Spaeth gets to cut loose on the instrumental “Legend of a Wheelman” and then there’s Peter’s declaration of the Fleshtones’ intentions and independence in “New Scene”. This is damn energetic, even with some awkward-sounding stops, though the cool sing-along lines like “we’re hip, we’re concerned and involved” really make the song.

Their “Super Rock Sound” is highlighted in the somewhat Gary Glitter-ish title track, propelled by Bill Milhizer’s fantastic drumming and continues with Peter’s penchant for describing the band’s hopes, desires and demands all in one tune! This was another audience fave and if you weren’t moving while they were playing this, you couldn’t be human! “We always stay cool – we like it that way!”

“Right Side of a Good Thing” was a rare song of theirs that never really clicked with me – I think maybe it’s a little too poppy and trying too hard to be danceable. This was the song from this album that was used for a video, but I think the vid (they threw a party in LA and got everyone drunk!) is a little better than the tune!

Peter comes up with a great chorus in “Brainstorm” and then the band moves in positively moody territory on “This House is Empty” and creates a particularly powerful piece. “Want!” is pretty simplistic lyrically (for a change) but damn catchy, regardless!

They close this record with a “super rock” version of John Lee Hooker’s “Burning Hell” which they definitely Fleshtone-ize!

Despite my nit-picks, these are two terrific r’n’r albums and a couple of my favorites of the early 80’s. The Fleshtones remain one of the hardest working bands in music more than 30 years (!) after their inception. Buy whatever you can and see ‘em the next time they’re in your area!

I think that this is the official Fleshtones website, though i'm not certain.