(Century Media Records, 2009)
by Noel Oxford
According to my extensive research – which, by the way, totally is extensive and totally does not consist of me skim reading a couple of amazon.com reviews – ‘Signs of Infinite Power’ is a divisive release for the Fu Manchu faithful. Some of them think of it as a distillation of the sound of the Bergen-Belsen bulldozers, its purity perverted yet further by dint of the fact that it’s being relayed via a gramophone built from the delicate bones of infants and kittens and other tortured metaphorical stuff like that. Then you have the optimists who triumphantly proclaim it a return to form, or even, to go one further, the next leg on an epic journey back to the mystical and storied realm of Form first begun by the Fellowship of the Fuzz on 2007’s ‘We Must Obey’.
Problem is that both camps are stupid and wrong. It’s a Fu Manchu record, by Fu Manchu, and as such it sounds like absolutely every other Fu Manchu record that Fu Manchu have ever, ever done, containing, as it does, a solid ten variations on both the songs Fu Manchu have written in their career. Guitars still fuzz suitably up and down the scales, sketching riffs that are the equivalent of a ribeye dunked in Lyle’s Golden Syrup; the drums are still simple and workmanlike, yet elegant; and the vocals are still shouted across the top of it all in a snarling monotone chant. It’s Fu Manchu. Doing a Fu Manchu record.
Let us not be mistaken, however. That does not make it bad. In fact, it’s really very good. It does everything a Fu Manchu record should, and it does it in spades.
Take ‘Webfoot Witch Hat’ for example, a sterling rendition of the first of Fu Manchu’s two archetypes. A moody intro gives way to a brittle chorus riff that bounces around more frantically than Scatman John’s karaoke dot. A half-time middle eight breakdown with a couple of bluesy licks toddles on by, before the entire thing is wrapped up by Scott Hill whispering the chorus a couple of times, rather than bellowing it. Or, in precisely the same vein, you’ve got the title track, which sounds more or less like ‘Land of Giants’, the best tune off the last album by quite the long chalk.
Then you’ve got the other song Fu Manchu have perfected, typified in ‘El Busta’. A pacey, driving tune that’s all shoulders and gristle, barging along with a purpose with which you dare not interfere – the musical equivalent of a lobotomised Winston Churchill on his way to the Kraut and Bulldog for a stiffener, or maybe Wile E. Coyote on like rocket skates and that. It sounds almost precisely like ‘King of the Road’, ‘Hell on Wheels’, ‘Shift Kicker’, ‘We Must Obey’, or just take your fucking pick Jesus what am I your dad?
If all that verbiage makes the record sound shit, then I’m afraid to say you’ve missed the point. Here it is again: Fu Manchu know what they are doing, and they do it well. They’re apparently self-aware enough to know that this sort of music is meant to be dumb, fun and above all, loud. That’s why they write songs about impractical V8 cars and flying saucers. They don’t muck about either – ten tunes, half an hour of music. In and out, bada bing, bada bong. It’s thick music, in every single sense of the word, and it works.
Still, it strikes me as strange that a band who helped pioneer an entire genre – especially one with such strong ties to psychedelia – should take such a meat and potatoes approach to their work. Perhaps more than any of their contemporaries, they carry the torch of classic, straightforward 70s hard rock and 80s hardcore, without feeling the need to paint the torch pink or squirt lighter fluid on it or seal it in amber and worship it for all eternity.
Fundamentally, ‘Signs of Infinite Power’ is a good Fu Manchu record – which is to say, it’s a good record in its own right.