It’s two a.m. somewhere in America, and the Fleshtones are leading a conga line out into a dirty, rainy street. Keith’s guitar pokes the door open, Bill’s dragging along and pummeling the tom tom, and while Peter does the frug, Ken’s bass is still thumping through the amps they’ve left inside. The crowd follows, girls giggling, boys laughing til they can’t stand up, all the diehards deputized as official members of the Fleshtones Glee Club, singin’ along. Right at this moment you say to yourself, “How long can they keep being the best rock’n’roll band in America, playing their hearts out night after night — ever since Gerald Ford was president! — putting out really good records year in and year out, alas never quite getting that break?” Suddenly a patrol car pulls up, and just as you wonder whether their luck, and yours, has gone from bad to worse, the cops get out dancing to the tune of “Jet Set Fleshtones,” and you know, your heart tells you, no, you can feel it in your bones: these guys aren’t done yet. No way. Not the Fleshtones. Just to prove it, today the ‘tones released a new album (produced by Ivan Julian of Voidoids fame.) “Take A Good Look,” something like the 17th long player by the Gods of the Garage, is the Fleshtones’ best album in at least ten years, and one of the top three or four records of their long and storied career.
- The sound is a throwback all the way to those singles and the “Roman Gods” album produced by Richard Mazda. And of course it is: Ivan Julian, one of the only New York punkrockers who could generate as much six-string excitement as Keith Streng, knows the really good Fleshtones records have always had their inspiration come from Mies Van Der Rohe. No, not when he said, “Space is liberation.” When he said, “Less is more, dummy.”
- The dynamic of the band has shifted, with Keith now singing one out of every three or four songs. I’m not complaining, though I happen to think Peter Zaremba is now and always has been one of the great vocalists in rock. It’s just different. Keith’s asserting himself as never before, singing songs like “Shiney Hiney,” which is not a disquisition on the groundwork of the metaphysics of morals, but a set of instructions about what the world can kiss.
- If, like me, you think of the Rolling Stones’ “Between The Buttons” as a pop album, you’ll understand why the Fleshtones have always been so much more than just a garage band, so much more than just the most exciting band that’s ever jumped up on top the bar in your hometown and done the gentleman’s twist. In an ideal world, no, in a halfway decent one, “Love Yourself”, with its haunting blues harp and infectious beat, would be coming out of radios on every dashboard in town. That it won’t proves nothing but the deficiencies of the planet we live on.
- Don’t believe me? Go listen to the title track, to “Jet Set Fleshtones,” to “Ruby’s Old Town.” Next time Bono boasts about his coop in the San Remo, or wherever it is the rich rockstars live, play him the Fleshtones song “New York City.” It reduces the U2 song of the same name to so much twaddle.
Yes, I’ve listened to the new Black Mountain, and to the new Cat Power, both out today. The Fleshtones win Super Tuesday in a landslide. Those other guys have put out good records, about which Tulip Frenzy will be weighing in later. For now let’s shimmy out the door and celebrate the ‘tones return to magic form.