Review Summary: The first hazy trip with the Californian sand warriors.
Even among the many stoner rock bands that formed over the years, few can capture the free-spirited, relaxed and groovy essence of the genre with such simplistic yet effective delivery. Hailing from California under the main leadership of guitarist (and later vocalist) Scott Hill, Fu Manchu started out as a hardcore punk band back in 1985 and went though many line-up changes and small releases before arriving with their debut in 1994. The fuzzy, psychedelic tone of such influential band like Kyuss and Monster Magnet might made them to change their musical direction to the desert rock territory, but the straightforward delivery remained and maintained itself as their main weapon.
“No One Ride for Free” lays out its stylistic traits pretty quickly, all of which remained as the band’s most important elements to this day: Songs with a simple but catchy structure, full with hard-rocking and groovy riffs, guitars that are both warm, heavy and spaced out, lyrics and tone focused on skateboarding, driving around with cool cars, getting high, surfing on the beach and just simply enjoying life to the fullest. Scott Hill’s voice might be eyebrow-raising at first but he fits to the nature of this music like a glove. Also add in memorable choruses, stellar drum work, pulsating bass, bluesy guitar solos and vivid, raw production into the mix and you pretty much got what Fu Manchu is about.
This is a short, very basic but fun debut that showcases the band’s various displays and influences in just eight songs and 27 minutes. The mid-tempo openers “Time to Fly” and “Ojo Rojo” pretty much sets up the whole feel of the record with their mid-paced and incredibly cool rhythms, trippy accords. “Show and Shine” displays the band’s punkish roots with their fast and energetic vibe, while “Mega-Bumpers” is also a very memorable stoner piece as it goes from relaxed fun to a full blown headbanger with some slick guitar licks. Kyuss drummer Brant Björk handled the production with uppermost excellence perfectly channeling the genre’s usual sound while also adding some touches that makes Fu Manchu distinctive from its peers. Also the rough and semi-unpolished mixing gives a much starker and heavier edge to this record. This especially true in the Black Sabbath-esque “Super Bird” which is one of my personal favorites from these guys, due to its absolutely crushing main riff and smart structure that gives space to the other instruments as well.
In overall “No One Ride for Free” like nearly any other Fu Manchu album perfectly captures the overall feel and atmosphere that they channel through their amazingly fun and enjoyable music. It’s a perfect starter for one of the most prolific bands in stoner rock, and can be a perfect introductory not just to them, but to the genre itself. And that’s pretty high praising if you think about it.