Ollying out of the dope-smoking skate parks of Los Angeles at the dawn of the ’90s, to the uninitiated Fu Manchu have existed over the past decade as little more than a repetitive remedy for Kyuss fans who live in mourning of the godfathers of stoner.
This is however a misconstrued and downright slanderous statement, for in reality Fu Manchu form the small yet vital footbridge between the peaks of fuzzed-out stoner and the more up-tempo trash rock vibes that garage bands across America have been churning out since the ’70s.
Although the inextricably stronger link to the stoner scene via both ex-members and style is indisputable, the tanned (and now somewhat wrinkled) quartet are undoubtedly a unique force in whatever arena you care to dump them.
Latest release Start The Machine certainly reinforces this truth with a few signature bars of tub-thumping courtesy of Scott Reeder before opener Written In Stone crashes into full swing.
With a truly anthemic chorus kicking in at just under the one minute mark and a sweet, sweet solo less than thirty seconds later, Fu Manchu seem keen to hammer home their groove-laden manifesto in as little time as humanly possible. With barely a second to breathe, the hard-hitting I Cant Hear You is unleashed with thundering bass, and more cymbal chokes than Nicko McBrain drops in an entire Iron Maiden gig.
Make Them Believe weaves in a few unusual twists for the Southern Cali veterans, a much slower start sees this epic draw on a wide range of influences from Sabbath to contemporaries Clutch. Hey and I Wanna Be demonstrate the band’s sole weakness, namely that as Status Quo so shamelessly proved throughout their existence, there’s only so much you can do with one effect setting and three chords. Still, they apply this formula with deadly precision which is surely the reason they’re still touring after 10 years of kick ass live shows.
I’m Gettin’ Away is vocalist Scott Hill’s manifesto of escapism, aimed at kicking back, leaving behind the many label worries of recent months and tokin’ deep on that spliff. Which leads us beautifully to the diamond in the rough of Start The Machine: Out To Sea is a laid-back little number of psychedelic proportions. Swirling bass and delicate guitar, backed by softly brushed drums, make for an altogether Sabbath-like instrumental number. Close your eyes and it’s Masters Of Reality all over again. Pure glorious stoner.
Wasting Mo Time in returning to the grindstone, Hill’s vocals on Open Your Eyes augment the more cheesed off element of the album, with the vocalist sounding so vexed, you’d think some unsuspecting hippy had just swiped his joint. Chugging guitars and rolling bass keep this hook-laden number bouncing along, but this is really Scott Reeder’s chance to shine, with the expert sticksman proving what happens when you mix the inspiration of John Bonham and Josh Freese.
Today’s Too Soon witnesses a return to the call and response guitar-vocal lines that will be all too familiar to Manchu fans, but when the VW camper’s in fifth gear with your surfboard on the roof, can there be any better music to burn down the Californian highways to? Closer I Wanna Be flirts with more melodic vocals than we’ve become accustomed to, with Scott sounding almost a little “cleansed” after an albums worth of ranting.
Start The Machine will not be a contender for album of the year in many people’s books. It will not win a Brit or Grammy award, or go down as a revolutionary LP. However, if you have a weakness for pumping grungy rock from your speakers turned all the way up to 11, then you could do much worse than this.