Released: September 13, 1988.
Produced by: David Kahne.
Recorded at: Sunset Sound, Hollywood
Songs you might recognize:
The cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddy’s Dead” that opens the record, the single “Ma and Pa” and the ballad “Change” that closes things out
Second albums are problematic. Either they fail and tumble into the cliche of a “sophomore slump” (i.e. what we liked about the artist the first go-around came down to newness and hype) or they succeed and blot out the first album they built on (see brilliant follow-ups to now overlooked debut albums by the likes of Madonna or Carol King or Nine Inch Nails or Public Enemy) and are only duly appreciated in retrospect. I say “duly” because it’s our own mistake to believe that great second albums are breaks from the past i.e the artist finally growing up and living childish things behind. Second records always build on first records, whether as evolution, contrast, or here’s-a-few-things-we’re-still-working-out. In the case of TRUTH AND SOUL it’s all three and a fourth thing too, the studio album that feels like one long jam session.
Get past “Freddy’s Dead” as the opener (which is a great cover but doesn’t sound enough like Fishbone has made the great Mayfield track their own) and the album l feels like an extended groove all the way until the ballad “Change” that closes things out (a courageous choice that works for a record that, on the whole, resembles a 40 minute party. Why send your guest homes in a stroll instead of sweat ecstasy unless you can really nail it?). Critics at the time made way too much of Fishbone borrowing from heavy metal on this record, which to me only sounds like news if you willfully ignore what kissing cousins metal and punk often are and if you think 6 black musicians doing furious guitar solos is novel (if so, meet a shy kid from Seattle named Jimi Hendrix). But I suppose given that metal at this time typically meant the cloud of toxic masculinity and toxic hair spray hovering over the Sunset Strip, Fishbone’s raucous neighborhood vibe, more garage party spilling out on the lawn than cocaine and motorcycle leather, got critics over- focused on that. Which also meant ignoring the band’s first album IN YOUR FACE that TRUTH AND SOUL built on.
If IN YOUR FACE feels like a series of experiments from a band that has always been about hyphenates, TRUTH AND SOUL is the organization of those experiments (politics and punchlines, ska and soul,) into a coherent argument. It’s just that in Fishbone’s case, a coherent argument feels like a great concert, a live album that isn’t a live album, instead of a perfectly laid out sequence of songs. TRUTH AND SOUL then has the seeming liability of also feeling like an album where it’s easy to lose your place, to be taken enough by the groove that you forget what song you’re on and how to revisit it and can, quite humanly, feel like a record where all the tracks sound the same.
Which means this record probably makes the most sense if listened to immediately after IN YOUR FACE. On its own, you’ve got to stop dancing in place long enough for its greatness to sink in. Its politics are honed like a knife in a way its predecceser was only just getting around to. See the penultimate track “Ghetto Soundwave” a circular shuffler you can dance to that feels like it was written about the murder of George Floyd rather than 35 years before it or the psycho-circus wail of “Subliminal Fascism”, 90 seconds of an convincing argument for punching nazis from Killer Klowns. The record’s humor lays seamlessly (notice how the sincerity of the beach-jammy ode-to-friendship “A Mighty Long Way” at position 6 sets us up for similar in grove if not in message “Bonin’ in the Boneyard” next ) rather than coming to a stop for it. Perhaps ironically, it’s a party record that may be best listened to alone with headphones, to get the component parts that make up the magic whole.
But the magic is everywhere. A record with that surpasses its overstated title by having a lot of truth a lot of soul and then also, a lot of fun and experiments and jags that somehow all end up in the same loud garage. As a second record, it doesn’t surpass the first or let us down from its high. Incredibly, the two feel like younger and older siblings, both of whom you’d want as friends