Thursday, May 15, 2014

Fu Manchu - Gigantoid album review

It was starting to get to the stage where Fu Manchu were essentially stoner rock's answer to AC/DC or Motorhead.  After a great series of albums through the late 1990's, peaking on 2000's King of the Road, everything since followed a largely similar formula: big fuzzed-out riffs, lyrics about aliens, girls, and/or cars, and plenty of mid-tempo crunch.  The material was decent, but it wasn't anything you hadn't heard before, and lacked some of the memorable elements of their earlier material - the sleazy groove of Weird Beard, the dual-guitar mayhem of Tilt, or the sheer hooks of tracks like Evil Eye.

Gigantoid changes that up.  The sound is unmistakably Fu Manchu but there's nothing formulaic about this record.  Opening track Dimension Shifter starts with a classic Fu Manchu hook a la Evil Eye, but at the two minute mark it abruptly morphs into a groovy psychedelic instrumental jam.

Meanwhile, Invaders On My Back, rather than being the paranoid stoner jam that the title might imply, is a direct, angry number that is much more reminiscent of the band's punk influences.  It is, however, followed by the particularly groovy and far more accurately titled Anxiety Reducer, which features a stunning main riff that is the equal of anything on Daredevil or ...In Search Of.

The experimentation doesn't always quite work - the quiet loud quiet loud dynamic of Mutant is a bit jarring.  And sometimes it's absent altogether - Radio Source Sagittarius could have appeared on any of the last three or four Fu Manchu albums and the extended outro prolongs it a bit much.

But equally, there's some really deft touches throughout the album.  No Warning is an absolute full-throttle number that threatens to end at the tender young age of 35 seconds, before launching into another full-on assault to instead end at the not-quite-so-young age of 1 minute 25 seconds.

Nowhere is this more evident than The Last Question - a classic call-and-answer riff, a great groove, and a tasty solo characterise the song's first half, before the remaining four minutes transform into a wandering, psychedelic jam.

Overall, it's a fairly tightly-packed 39 minutes worth, with minimal filler, and enough variety to hold the ear of the discerning listener - and arguably the best thing they've released since King of the Road.  Gigantoid is unlikely to win Fu Manchu much in the way of new audience, but it certainly might rekindle the interest of a few older fans (this one included).

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