Review Summary: As airy, sunny, laid-back and just plain cool as the beachfront, convertible and bikini babes on the sleeve suggest.
Fu Manchu were, along with Kyuss, one of the forefront names of the stoner/desert rock scene. Somewhat removed from the trudging hea viness of “real” stoners like Iron Monkey or Bongzilla, these bands sought to mix the fuzzy, spaced-out nature of the genre with flat-out hard rock influences, coming across as modernized versions of something like Hawkwind. However, there soon was a split within the scene itself: while Kyuss and their peers would continue down the path of increasing fuziness, Fu Manchu, along with other bands, chose to embrace their hard-rock roots, basically becoming practitioners of the genre.
All this brings us to the early years of the millenium, and to California Crossing
, an album which possesses one of the most perfectly fitting covers of all time. In fact, the album’s sound is as airy, sunny, laid-back and just plain cool
as the beachfront, convertible and bikini babes on the sleeve suggest. Sure, at times it is more than a bit fuzzy, as if the band and their sultry escorts had indulged in a few blunts during the ride; but the record’s essentially cool, laid-back nature never ceases to make itself heard, even when the band injects a little more energy into its tempos.
Opener Separate Kingdom
already serves as a perfect introduction to the album, with a laid-back intro riff, a nice chorus and a bit of a Cultish swagger. Follow-up Hang On
is an example of a song where the band infuse a little more speed into the proceedings, but, as noted, it retains the essential chillout nature of Fu Manchu’s sound. From then on, the album basically balances these two strands, sometimes delving into somewhat more stoney ground (like in Bultaco
, which features a guest appearance by Keith Morris) but never losing sight of the main hard-rock road it chose to go down.
The first half of the album is undeniably very strong. Tracks like Separate Kingdom, Thinkin’ Out Loud
or the title track itself all have strong riffs, appealing singalong choruses and decent, if unspectacular, solos, while some of them also bring somewhat unexpected influences, like the less-than-subtle allusion to AC/DC on Wiz Kid
and the grungey touches in the chorus of Thinking Out Loud
. However, the single greatest moment of this album is undeniably Mongoose
, whose intro gives new meaning to Christopher Walken’s famous proclamation of “gotta have more cowbell!” From there, the track evolves into an orgy of hard rock riffing, fuzz, good soloing and an even better chorus, easily standing head and shoulders above even the best of its peers. However, it is merely the cherry on top of what was already an extremely appetizing cake.
Sadly, however, the second half ends up faltering quite a bit, the more stoner-inclined tracks not working as well as its rockier predecessors, and on occasion even becoming completely anonymous (Squash That Fly
), something that never happened in the early stages of the album. Scott Hill’s exceedingly monotone vocals also begin to grate a little, even if Bob Balch’s riffs continue to try their darndest to excite. Still, there are a few decent moments on this portion of the album, Amp’n
chief among them, but also Downtown In Dogtown
and even instrumental The Wasteoid
, which features solos by all three instruments, but still has the decency to stay under the four-minute mark, like the majority of the tracks on the album, and thus not overstay its welcome.
In the end, then, California Crossing
may not be a masterpiece of the hard rock genre, but it makes for a fun, extremely easy listen. The short duration of the songs, coupled with the breezy nature of most of them, contribute to make this one of those albums you want to listen to while driving, preferably close to the maximum speed limit down a deserted highway. If you enjoy the likes of Lullabies To Paralyze
, it is your duty to get this album; if you like manly hard rock as a genre, then by all means give it a try, too. It comes guaranteed with no keyboards, no ballads, no hairspray and no leopard prints; just loud, crunchy guitars and a whole lotta balls.