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Fu Manchu | California Crossing | review | stoner | rock | Lollipop

Fu Manchu

California Crossing (Mammoth)
by Brian Varney

Now considered grandparents to the "stoner" scene, Fu Manchu also sharply divide said audience. As they've streamlined their sound into the trim, feral beast that it currently is, they've made changes to it. Gone are the psychedelic elements of earlier efforts like In Search Of.... With California Crossing, they've even changed a fundamental element of their sound by turning down the fuzz on the guitars. With each change, they've both won new fans and lost old die-hards (most of whom have dogmatically accused the band of "selling out"). But regardless of the change in their audience, the guys in Fu Manchu have never lost sight of their desire to bring the rock.

With The Action is Go, King of the Road, and now California Crossing, Fu Manchu has settled into their sound and concentrated on writing good songs. This has led to complaints of "everything sounds the same," which I suppose is true, but it was also true with the Ramones. Still, if you were already set in your opinion of Fu Manchu, this album probably won't change your mind. For folks like myself who thought the band's previous full-length, King of the Road, was the crowning achievement in a pretty impressive discography, California Crossing will spend many hours on your stereo.

I've heard from a few people that California Crossing is "too commercial," which I frankly don't understand. Unfortunately, you're not likely to hear many songs that sound like "Separate Kingdom" or the title track on the radio unless you're dialed into the classic rock station. So while this might've sounded commercial, say, 25 years ago, in today's musical climate, it comes out on an indie and is lucky to sell in the six-figure range.

That aside, the classic rock mention is a nice segue since mid-'70s classic rock is the obvious reference point with this band. The beats are subjugated to the cowbell (even when it's not being played), and the songs are solid and catchy without sacrificing rock power. In that sense, the closest I can come to pinpointing a spiritual heir is Toys in the Attic/Rocks-era Aerosmith. Fu Manchu aren't quite that good yet, but they're closer than anyone else.

Another common complaint is that Scott Hill is not the best singer. While this is true, it doesn't really bother me. Everyone knows a rock singer doesn't have to know how to sing, he's just got to use what he's got. And Scott's no Paul Rodgers, but his lazy stoner/surfer drawl fits the mood and the subject matter (dirtbikes, surfing, cars) of these songs quite well.
If all I've said means nothing and the best you can muster is "the songs all sound the same," then I suppose we've reached an impasse. If that really bothers you, I guess you probably don't own any records by AC/DC or ZZ Top or the Supersuckers or the Ramones. And if that's also the case, I guess we've got nothing to talk about...

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