There are certain bands that we rely on to do one thing very well. AC/DC, for instance. Pick out any album of theirs at random and you can feel pretty confident that you’re about to be treated to a solid dose of no-frills, no-nonsense, guitar-based rock ’n’ roll.
The Fleshtones are like that, too. The band has delivered witty, soul-infused garage rock since the Paleolithic mid-1970s, when they routinely raised holy hell at CBGB’s alongside contemporaries like the Ramones and the New York Dolls. The band dips into the garage-rock well once again on its latest album, Wheel of Talent. True, there’s nothing here that could be called groundbreaking — nothing that will shake your mind or rattle your soul. What you will find here is a fizzy and irresistible mix of guitars, drums and keyboards, precisely the kind of magic the Fleshtones have been giving us for decades. These songs are familiar, yes, but they’re also great fun.
The small details are what make Wheel of Talent work. Consider the opening track, “Available”. It would stand as a pleasant if somewhat standard slice of garage rock, except for the strings that saw in and out of the chorus, adding just the right amount of offbeat sonic spice. “Remember the Ramones” is a blistering look back at their legendary rock ‘n’ roll peers. The buzzing rhythm guitar and driving beat would make the Ramones proud, but what makes the song for me is the joyous way the Fleshtones deliver the title phrase, splitting up the first word in the middle: “Remem…ber the Ramones”!
As always, the Fleshtones decorate their basic rock attack with elements from other genres. Fat organ fills can be found throughout the album, giving the music a sweeter shade of soul. And songs like “Tear for Tear” feature the twangy chime of surf guitar. There are a couple of small surprises, too. One of the album’s highlights is “For A Smile”, which features a guest lead vocal by Mary Huff of Southern Culture on the Skids. Huff’s sweet and expressive voice offers a wonderful bit of variety, and the Fleshtones’ classic boy-group backing vocals are a hoot. Another strange gem is “Veo La Luz”, a sparkling fuzz-guitar raver with vocals sung entirely in Spanish.
The Fleshtones’ sense of humor remains intact, if the lyrics are anything to go by. The aforementioned “Available” is actually a wry nod to the social media age: “I get on Facebook / To tell the world / About my new status / I’m available for all”! The wah-wah rocker “Roofarama” is a raucous celebration of getting busy on a roof, under the stars. Then there’s the rockabilly-flavored “Hipster Heaven”, which pokes fun at all the tattooed whippersnappers roaming New York City these days.
So yes, Wheel of Talent delivers. The Fleshtones aren’t reaching for anything new at this point in their nearly four-decade career, but if they can still make the same-old, same-old sound this fun, why not go along for the ride?