ShareBROOKLYN SOUND SOLUTION - The Fleshtones featuring Lenny Kaye (Yep Roc)
On first glance your expectations might be low. It's Album Number 549 for these New York City veterans and it's not often a good portent when a band starts roping in guest members (albeit an accomplished one in Nuggets compiler and Patti Smith's guitarist Lenny Kaye.) The tracklist is dominated by (mainly obscure) covers. There's even a Beatles song. Prepare for the worst…
It only take a few plays before you realise that The Fleshtones have nailed it again. The chilled-out instro (one of six!) "Comin' Home Baby" sets the scene: Blueswailin' with strident Kaye and Keith Streng guitars against an occasional swirling keyboard wash. The take on the Mop Tops' "Day Tripper" is nothing to write home about but "I Wish You Would" comes off as a perfect cross between the Yardbirds and the Doors. You will believe.
"You Took A Bite Of My Soul" is underpinned by some of the nastiest fuzz this side of an equipment geek's garage sale. "You Give Me Nothing To Go On" is pitched in co-producer Phast Freddie's liners as Ted Taylor arm-wrestling the MC5 and lives up to that florid prose. There's a vocal-less version as well.
"Rats In My Kitchen" is a ragged garage rocker with various friends roped in on the choruses (Dave Faulkner of the Hoodoo Gurus being one of them.) Having half the songs instrumental might sound like a crazy idea when you have the likes of Peter Zaremba behind the mic but it actually works well with variety a by-word. There's even a bit of going back to the past with sax on "Solution # 1."
Soulful Super Rock rules again. There's still lots of life in these 'Tones. - The Barman
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ROMAN GODS/UP-FRONT EP… PLUS - The Fleshtones (Raven)
HEXBREAKER!/SPEED CONNECTION - LIVE IN PARIS 85 - The Fleshtones (Raven)
Forget 99 percent of those garage bands that blossomed like algae bloom in over-heated ponds in the 1980s. The Fleshtones were - and still are - head and shoulders above them all. Full marks for Raven Records for recognising this, and for delivering these re-issues.
Raven's retrospective "It's Super Rock Time" was a grand start but "Roman Gods/Up-Front EP…Plus" digs deeper into the vaults. It's admittedly a mixed bag - this was a band finding its feet after a false start - but it's no less essential. The Fleshtones almost never got into second gear. Lauded on the downtown Manhattan scene but always out of step with what was hip, their planned debut album went into limbo land when ex-Dolls manager Marty Thau's Red Star Records went belly-up. Enter I.R.S. - the label, not the taxman - who signed and recorded them and got a five-track 12-incher out the door.
In parts, the "Up-Front" EP is thinner than Donald Trump's real hair and a couple of tracks seem partly realised, but it would still be a B-plus in most bands' discographies. "Girls From Baltimore", "The Theme From The Vindicators" and a quirky "Play With Fire" are played with verve.
More than likely, however, the "Roman Gods" album (1982) is why you're here and it's a recording that sits on the band's top-shelf. It contains some of their best tracks ("I've Gotta Change My Life", "Hope Come Back", "Roman Gods") and still crackles, three decades on.
The Fleshies pushed the musical envelope in all sorts of directions, taking cues from all the usual suspects as well as soul, Suicide and even dance music. You can have fun working out where it all fits and remember that it doesn't have to be cliched to come out of a garage.
The bonus tracks - the UK and US-released, live-in-Paris "Speed Connection" rarity from1985 - are raggedly recorded and flatly mixed, but still righteous. You get a medley of Kingsmen-like tunes (cleverly dubbed "Kingsmen-like Medley") as well as a skulking "The Dreg." Peter Zaremba's vocals sound frayed but even under duress, The Fleshtones win.
An expanded horn section (this was when Gordon Spaeth was full-time on sax) and a cameo from REM's Peter Buck are extra shiny features.
1983's "Hexbreaker!" is hailed by many if not most as the band's high-water mark and it doesn't take many listens to work out why. The title track is an anthem of Godzilla proportions and if you can't love "Screamin Skull" and the infectious R & B belter, "Right Side Of a Good Thing", you're not trying.
Richard Mazda's production is nigh perfect and the band sounds confident enough to take on all comers. If fuzz met twang and had a child, it would be in a band like The Fleshtones.
The balance of this package is the "Speed Connection Live in Paris 85" LP that was only issued in France. It comes forma different night as the "Speed Connection" set app;ended to "Roman Gods" and is clearly superior in recording quality and delivery. The 12-track set has some crossover but who's quibbling. Trivia buffs will recognise the cover of '60s obscurity "Hide And Seek" as the same song Sydney's Lipstick Killers committed to tape for a demo that's done the rounds in collector circles.
There's enough brilliance in these releases to fuel a week of parties. Submit and buy. - The Barman
IT'S SUPER ROCK TIME - The Fleshtones (Raven)
New York City's Fleshtones have no peers when it comes to hosting a garage shindig and that's why this collection from their years on the IRS label (1980-85) is as close to essential as any music needs to be.
The Fleshies have been doing this thing for as long as anyone can remember and have influenced everyone from Dream Syndicate to R.E.M. and the Hoodoo Gurus. Mainstream success has eluded them but their signing at IRS came at a time when it did seem possible. That they continue to fight the good fight some 30 years later - and make records that hold up against anything they've done - is proof that for them, rock and roll is a calling and not a job.
Compiler Dave Laing (the man behind "Do The Pop" and the force behind the mighty Dog Meat label) has done a fine job delivering 25 songs, five of them live in France and the balance from various albums and singles. You won't find most of this on CD anywhere else so that's one small reason to praise the digital age.
The bulk of the prime studio stuff is from the "Roman Gods" and "Hexbreaker" albums, surely two of the most underrated LPs of the '80s. The rest of it is a bits and pieces affair, which simply reflects on the fact that the Fleshtones were prolific and not one of those "album bands" that saved material for LPs.
You can argue a solid case that the Fleshtones were both ahead and behind the musical curve for much of the time documented on this disc. Their strategic use of a horn player and concurrent embracing of R & B, funk and bubblegum put them at odds with prevailing synth pop trends - and they'd already worked with Suicide's Alan Vega when were signed to Red Star.
(Insert your own spin here - or get the story straight from the horses' mouths by downloading the "Pardon Us For Living But The Graveyard Was Full" here.)
Anyway, the danger in reflecting on what might have been is that you sometimes overlook what was and there's ample chance to enjoy simple but effective singsongs like "Hexbreaker", "Ride Your Pony" and "Right Side Of a Good Thing" (dig Keith Streng's wailing back-up vocal!) Then there are the more subtle stylings of songs like "Shadow Line" that should have been mainstays on more than just college radio.
Peerless and worthy of you chasing it down, this very minute. - The Barman
TAKE A GOOD LOOK - The Fleshtones (Yeproc/Shock)
Three years and hundreds of concerts after the excellent "Beachhead" (Yep Roc, 2005) the Fleshtones return with a bunch of new songs. Excellent, as usual. That’s no surprise at all: Peter Zaremba, Keith Streng, Bill Milhizer and Ken Fox have found the long-life elixir and hit the mark once again.
If you except their first two albums – legendary "Roman Gods" (1981) and "Hexbreaker" (1983) - the NYC band have released their best records in the last decade, starting from the groundbreaking "More Than Skin Deep" (1997). It demonstrates the artistic maturity, freshness and longevity that many people envy them. And this new “Take A Good Look!” is no exception.
Co-produced by a cult-hero as Ivan Julian (former Richard Hell’s Voidoids), the new Fleshtones album is a bit different from the previous band’s efforts “Beachhead” and Do You Swing?”. Those albums showed the classic “Super-Rock” formula, that fantastic mixture of garage, beat & rock’n’roll which is the Fleshtones’ trademark. In this new album the band from Brooklyn use their usual ingredients (fuzz guitars and vintage organ) but open their sonic solutions’ range to give us another half-an-hour of pure pleasure as a present.
nstead of going fast as always the Fleshtones accelerate or slow down the rhythms as they like. So they play their classic party-songs like the open-track "First Date (Are you coming on to me?)" or the liquid "Jet Set Fleshtones" and great ballads with a folkish flavour ("This Time Josephine") at the same time. However the result doesn’t change: fun is assured!
It’s impossible to stand still listening to the “Shiney Hiney” hooky choruses and guitars or the “Going Back To School” and “Love Yourself” refrains. It’s impossible not to beat the time listening to the riffs of the fantastic “Never Grew Up” or “Feels Good To Feel” or “New York City” which is enriched by a saxophone.
This time again don’t’ miss the chance to enjoy the Fleshtones new album. And do trust me: No Fleshtones? No party! - Roberto Calabrò
The next time someone writes a review lauding New York City's Fleshtones as a "portable party machine", smack 'em in the mouth and tell 'em not to be so frigging lazy. The Fleshtones have been around since Jesus played fullback for Jerusalem and that's the best these inspid cock-scratchers (thanks very much, RY) can do? It's downright insulting - to fans AND the 'Tones.
I suppose, like many people in Australia, The Fleshtones really came to my proper notice in the late-'80s when Dave Faulkner struck up a professional association. The Head Hoodoo Guru took a real shine to Peter Zaremba's gang after sharing a Stateside stage (but they were probably already on the same page) and produced 1991's "Powerstance", a not inconsiderable long-player that showed the band to be much more than your two-bit, two-dimensional garage rockers-cum-powerpop throwbacks.
A flick back through the band's catalogue before and since will show they aren't prudish about pushing envelopes in the stylistic sense, churning out everything from primal rockers to downright commercial efforts (I'm referencing the Peter Buck-produced "Beautiful Light" here) that stand up with the best by any of their peers. The band self-classifies its music as SUPER ROCK which is as good a term as any for an amalgam of every worthwhile rock and roll record you ever owned or heard.
Somehow, The Fleshtones manage to straddle multiple gaps between genres and employ horns, keyboards, soul stylisations and good ole rock and roll in more guises than False Face from the Batman TV series. Which isn't to say they're changeling whores, just possessors of receptive ears and massive record collections.
"Take a Good Look" finds The Fleshtones on middle-weight label Yeproc in their homeland via (indie in name only) distro operation Shock in Australia, which you'd think would give rise to this 'un being available in lotsa places that stock good music. Or so the theory goes. Reality is you'll probably have to push your local record shop hard to stock anything decent these does amid the price volume deals from majors, so don't feel afraid to lay on the American Mafia method acting and threaten to kick in their windows if they don't order it in, OK?
"First Date (Are You Coming On To Me)" crackles like good greasy R & B should but "Take A Good Look" really starts to kick flesh with "Shiney Hiney", a manic belter with arm-wrestling Keith Streng guitar solo. From then on in, "Take A Good Look" pushes all the pedals, from stomping fuzz and harp ("Feels Good To Feel", "Take A Good Look") to clap along beat ("New York City") and an organ-driven call-and-response soul self-declamation ("Jet Set Fleshtones".)
"Going Back To School" shows the Tones to be driven by one of the finest engine rooms on earth (drummer Bill Milhizer and relative newcomer bassist Ken Fox - he only joined 18 years ago.)
Several previous efforts have been augmented (most notably by horns)_ but it's guitar and Zaremba's organ that fills out the sound. There's no apology proffered or needed if this sounds like the last few Fleshtones albums.
So f you're as guilty as many around these parts for forgetting how great The Fleshtones
If only the Gurus-Fleshtone connection would translate into a modern-day tandem Australian tour. As they used to say in a football TV commercial (and not the one that made Dave Faulkner a squillion) : "I'd like to see that". - The Barman
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