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Sep122022

Fishbone Listen Through: Album 6 of 7: “The Psychotic Friends Nuttwerx”

Album 6 of 7: The Psychotic Friends Nuttwerx

Review: Fishbone’s greatest Side 1 at a point in their career when the world told them to give up. 

Recorded at The Village (Los Angeles)

Produced by Steve Lindsey

Released: March 21, 2000

Assessment:

Here’s the sad part: For their 6th studio album and their first in nearly 5 years, Fishbone had a brand new deal with Disney’s Hollywood Records in place, the album fucking went nowhere and their new label dropped them immediately. Happy part: The album got great reviews and deserved them. Nearly 20 years into their tenure as a band and at least double that in bad luck and self-destructive tendencies, Fishbone’s best qualities are all up front here: humor, versatility, staying power and bottomless good will: How many bands whose previous two albums tanked, get their heroes (George Clinton), peers (Bad Brains) and admirers (No Doubt, The Red Hot Chili Peppers) to show up and guest star? How many bands take that good will and opportunity then make one of their best records after the universe has told them repeatedly to give up?

The Psychotic Friends Nuttwerx (Fishbone’s album titles get progressively worse. If you own more than one, I suggest color coding or nicknames so you don’t have to remember them) feels grounded in this world and not a phantasm of their own making. Not only will you recognize their bench of guest talent (forgot to mention Ric James and Pink Floyd’s backing vocalists are here too) but Nuttwerx opens with a cover of the Temptations’s “Shakey Ground” and peaks on track 4 with Sly Stone’s “Everybody is a Star,” the first time Fishbone has cited their own inspirations so directly. Reviews praised the bands return to form as ska and reggae-inspired performers but what I hear as much of is the dark bluesy humor of Oakland’s Fantastic Negrito and New Orleans’s Hurray for the Riff Raff: Songs as mordant as they are funny and feel as though the hour is late rather than the party is peaking. As much of this record sits a chair with an eyebrow raised as it spins off its axle into space.

Since you’d basically have to press it yourself to find this record on vinyl, I’m gonna suggest downloading the first side then the last song, “Karma Tsunami.” The second side feels a bit slack and forgettable so perhaps a good time to zone out before the album comes back and smacks you one last time. And if you like records by Chaka Khan and The Pointer Sisters, futuristic yet grounded in at least three African-American musical traditions, “Nuttwerx” is produced by Steve Lindsey who trained at the right-shoulder of Richard Perry, the man behind the boards of Sisters Pointer and Mother Khan and their sonic influence echoes all up and down the channels of this Nuttwerz. So it’s got that going for it as well.

Sep82022

Fishbone Listen Through: Album 5 of 7: “Chim Chim’s Badass Revenge”

Album 5 of 7: Chim Chim’s Badass Revenge

Review: Download tacks 2, 6, 7 and 11. 

Recorded at: Indigo Ranch Studios, Malibu, CA.

Produced by Dallas Austin and Fishbone

Released: 1996

Assessment: 

We have arrived at Fishbone’s “Angry at The Music Industry” record, a decades-old blueprint for albums but a serviceable one. This is the cliche that, at its best, produces Pink Floyd’s Wish you Were Here, Joni Mitchell’s For The Roses and Prince’s Emancipation. On the other end, bargain versions of what a band actually does well : Nirvana’s “Rape Me” feels like the leftovers from “Francis Farmer Will Have its Revenge on Seattle” and “EMI” by the Sex Pistols resembles the seventh single you release from a hit album when you’ve already bleed the rest of it dry.

How then to give to the music industry right between the eyes while sounding like yourself not a spoiled child version of yourself? How to not let your fury be the only thing that matters and the only thing we hear? The answer might be, but probably isn’t, an album about bodily fluids and flaccid dangly parts.

The story so far:  Fishbone’s 4th album Give a Monkey a Brain tanked while the band was also going through a ton of personnel turnover and resulted on Sony Music dropping the band entirely. Would this have happened if Fishbone had been say, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, whom they mentored and inspired? No. But anyway…

Chim Chim happened in partnership with producer Dallas Austin (who wrote the majority of the songs on Boyz II Men’s debut album) whose label Rowdy Records had a distribution deal with Arista. Apparently this is a “concept album” (I don’t hear this at all) about the monkey spoken of on the previous record coming for galactic vengeance. All racial overtones of a black bands seeing themselves as avenging monkeys present and accounted for and Austin is on record as saying he wanted to make Fishbone’s heaviest record yet.

He didn’t do that. Instead, I’d say he created Fishbone’s funniest and whiplashiest record yet.

Of course it’s hilarious (Fishbone could do hilarious with an album of room tone). It’s also part of a great LA black humor tradition that blends genre fiction, afro-futurism and doing-the-dozens smackdowns (Fishbone’s records are the siblings of the novels of Walter Mosley and Paul Beatty and the full enterprise of Tyler the Creator). But c’mon now: We’re 5 albums and nearly 20 years in. And Fishbone decided that their power slam of the music industry that treated them like field hands is…a record about beer guts and taking a shit?

Unsurprisingly, “Chim Chim’s” best songs are not “Beer Gut” or “In the Cube” (slang for the restroom) but tracks that avoid this dumb idea entirely. The slap-backslap of “Psychologically Overcast” (Track 6, featuring Busta Rhymes) and “Alcoholic” (Track 7 about lead singer Angelo Moore) is as fierce as a hungry lioness. The title track sets us listeners is a heavy metal jam with a funk bass and marching band percussion that is actually more fun then that sounds on its face. The interlude monologues remind us, repeatedly, what can be great about hip-hop album interstitial sketches and I’ve even got love for “Monkey Dick” at track 11, which is essentially a ska-jam about a sexually frustrated zoo animal.

But c’mon now. 4 more songs about dicks and butts after that? Most of them over 7 minutes long?  Bearing your teeth at an industry that did you dirty with an album of pit humor? This is high school band shit and not on Fishbone’s level. Not at this point. Maybe not ever. And really not funny, the greatest crime of all.

You don’t need to own this one. You need to download tracks 2,6,7 and 11 and remind yourself that Fishbone’s real revenge was being great before anyone noticed, releasing three flawless albums in their 20s and still being influential now. Despite often having ideas that resemble taking a crap on their own career and future.

Sep82022

Fishbone Listen Through: Album 4 of 7: “Give a Monkey a Brain and he’ll Swear he’s the Center of the Universe”

Album 4 of 7: Give a Monkey a Brain and he’ll Swear he’s the Center of the Universe

Review: It’s a great Side B. Skip right to it.

Recorded at One on One Recording. North Hollywood, CA

Produced by Terry Date

Released: May 1993

Assessment: 

So this record, Fishbone’s 4th, is a heavy metal record. It’s a super groovy, dancy, low-on-theatrics-high-on-life kinda metal album, but the Fishbone that likes high stepping and horns is sitting this one out. Present instead: A lot of wicked guitar work but feeling smooth like rolling waves rather than jagged and jabbing like thrown glass.

When it works, it works really well. But you pretty much have to play the record in reverse order to get that. Because Side B is prize Fishbone, a seamless grove perfected on Reality of my Surroundings paired with the hilariously cruel social commentary the band’s had from the beginning.

Side A is a shit pile. And 4 of the 5 singles the band released from this record came right out of that mess. Side A sounds like someone kicked Fishbone up out of a deep sleep, yelled “play something different” then recorded while they woke up and remembered how.

Fans, critics and members of the band itself hated Monkey. The success of its predecessor had garnered a spot on the 1993 Lollapaloza Tour but they started that endeavor down their founding guitarist Kendall Jones, who quit immediately following the album’s completion. Right after the tour, keyboardist Chris Dowd split too. Meanwhile the critics beat Monkey until the poor creature lay dead, essentially charging Fishbone with the high crime of trying to be Jane’s Addiction and forgetting how to be Fishbone. Which feels kinda racist to me. Their label, Columbia, dropped them soon afterward, which also feels kinda racist to me.

Monkey (the entire phrase comes from a 1960s schlock religious tract PRINCIPIA DISCORDIA) is a much better album than that. The second side stands up to anything Fishbone had done so far particular the killer double pairings of “Lemon Meringue” and “They All Have Abandoned Their Hopes” (songs 7 and 8) and “No Fear” and “Nut Meglomaniac” which finish up the record at positions 11 and 12. On Side A, you’ve got “Black Flowers” and not much else. But get this record, if you like Fishbone at all, play Side B and think about how many bands of white musicians have tried something new, half-succeeded and been wholly forgiven for it.

Sep82022

Fishbone Listen Through: Album 3 of 7: “The Reality of My Surroundings”

The Reality of My Surroundings

Fishbone Listen Through: Album 3/7 The Reality of my Surroundings

Review: Why couldn’t it have been as great as everyone said? 

Released: April 23, 1991

Recorded: Ocean Way Recording, Hollywood

Produced by: Fishbone & David Kahne

In the usual telling of the Fishbone story , we’ve reached the band’s creative and commercial summit with their third album The Reality of my Surroundings. The second part of that is fact. As for the first, well, a) we are only half-way through their catalog so I couldn’t tell you yet, and b) Reality doesn’t feel like a peak to me but a swerve. It’s a beautiful, fascinating swerve, like everything the band has done thus far. But after listening to this record four times, its still feels not quite what it could have been: What their fans at the time had been waiting for may not be the album I was waiting for.

Surfacing in the spring of 1991, Reality of my Surroundings is when Fishbone arrived, at least as far as a band without chart hits and instant platinum albums can arrive: Larger concert venues, critical hosannahs, a placement on the Billboard album charts (No. 49), TV appearances on Saturday Night Live and The Arsenio Hall Show. Two tracks from the record’s aft side hit the modern rock Top 20. In what feels like a very Fishbone turn of events, the less successful of those, “Everyday Sunshine” became the band’s signature and closes their live shows to this day.

The Reality of My Surroundings is giant: 13 tracks and 5 interstitials cut from a live recording. Interstitials belonged mostly to hip-hop records back then (Track #10 “A Junkie’s Prayer” resembles a beat poem left off the Superfly Soundtrack and probably owed a creative debt to De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising released two years before) but that’s only one genre the ever-sampling Fishbone pulls from: Reality is a pioneer of both 80s Black Rock (how fast would you rush the gates for a co-headline Fishbone/Living Color tour?) and, less admirably, a forerunner to the metal/rap hybrid of the late 90s. Side #1 bangs like a thunderstorm without pauses for lightning, the band’s usual arsenal of reggae, funk and grove secondary to a downpour of guitar shredding. Side #2 is the one you know better and sounds like the Fishbone of their first two records as accomplished professionals rather than talented kids with short attention spans.

Too many ideas, too many experiments, most of them better than any band alive then or since and, all crammed in one place, doesn’t help The Reality of My Surroundings be an album rather than a brilliant schematic of one. The machine-gun stomp of the opener “Fight the Youth” belongs in a juiced-up 80s update of The Warriors which I mean as the highest praise. It sets a groove that carries you so smoothly through most of the side, you don’t realize until it’s too late that you’ve landed at Track #5 the harpiscord/reggae party jam (you heard that right) “Housework” and have no memory of any songs in between. The momentum built by “Everyday Sunshine” (Track #12) and the screamingly-funny send up of toxic masculinity “Naz-Tee May’en” leaks out the tire puncture left by “Babyhead” a dumb, porny Sexual Chocolate B-side. It’s very much the Fishbone you’ve come to love by the previous two records but you also hope they’ve matured out of this sort of nonsense by now.

I wish the two sides fit better together or were released seperately: Side 1 as an experimental EP, Side 2 as Reality itself. We’ll never know how that could have been. A breakthrough album (i.e. when public perception is that a band has “arrived” no matter how much they’ve already done) is usually mistaken as an artist’s best record up that point. A short list of disagreements: Wild, Innocent & The E. Street Shuffle is as good a Bruce Springsteen album as  Born to Run, his “arrival” that came right after. De La Soul’s #1 and #2 records are equally strong, equally so for fellow New York trio Digable Planets. And do we really have to lay out all the genius Kate Bush was dropping before Hounds of Love, which came 4 albums and 8 years into her recording career?

I’d say oh, well, but I ain’t sad about it. There’s plenty on Reality of My Surroundings that merits listening to it on a digital platform where you can skip around instead of on vinyl. I already own both its elder siblings on vinyl. Given how willing Fishbone is to try everything and do most everything with skill and zany commitment, I know as I listen on, reality will shift again.

I’m ready now. They always were.

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