Fluke emerged during the British acid house boom of the early 1990s and have been unfairly lumped in with the “electronica” scene ever since, a scene that they were never really part of. Nonetheless, they had success in the British charts; and, ironically, it was the American hype surrounding electronica that led to a contract with Astralwerks and their biggest seller in 1997’s Risotto.
When it became very clear that electronica was not the Next Big Thing, Fluke were relegated to cult status, with a cache of loyal fans holding out for a follow-up. Those fans had to wait six years for Puppy; even then, the album was import-only in the US for almost a year. Now it’s finally become available in the States only because the band’s label, One Little Indian, signed an American distribution deal. It’s too bad that Wax Trax! Records isn’t around any more, because it would have been the perfect label for Puppy, an album that has more in common with the vintage industrial dance music Wax Trax! used to release than any current techno trend. And while that vintage sound severely limits Puppy‘s scope, it’s also the source of its refreshing appeal.
Puppy is full of pulsating basslines, gurgling synths, drum machines and treated guitars. Although the rhythms are all 4/4 and the songs are mixed together continuously, it’s definitely not trance. Songs like “Hang Tough” and “Another Kind of Blues” are more reminiscent of the throbbing demon disco of ‘80s industrial acts like A Split Second and Front Line Assembly, especially when Jon Fugler vocalizes in a raspy, guttural grunt. Fifteen years ago, this kind of affectation sounded like the Devil himself; these days, it’s more like the guy from Smash Mouth after too many cigarettes. No matter, it’s still a pleasant diversion.
More importantly, Fluke aren’t afraid to use good ol’ fashioned, bruising power chords. Opening rocker “Snapshot” and dance extravaganza “Expo” are as grandiose and anthemic as you’d want them to be. “My Spine” gets down to a mean fuzz bass groove like My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult used to seduce with. Best of all, though, is “Baby Pain”, a slow-burning techno blues that reminds you that there wasn’t that much difference between industrial rock and “heavy metal” after all. All the pining, nouveaux-orchestral groups dotting today’s alt-rock landscape are just fine, but it’s damn refreshing to hear a man sing “My bleeding heart / Baby / Still beats for you” without a hint of irony.
Between the standouts, Puppy plugs along, providing equal amounts of fodder for dancing and air guitaring. Fugler’s and partner Mike Bryant’s refusal to do anything trendy means that the album sounds insular at times, and you might catch yourself realizing that it’s been a few minutes since anything really changed, wondering “Did I already hear this song?”. This limited approach can become a bit frustrating. As if they know that, Fluke throw in “Blue Sky” at the end. A wonderful piece of goth gospel, complete with a choir and a steadily building refrain that keeps going until it raises the roof, it’s the Sisters of Mercy/Jim Steinman anthem that got away—and it sounds nothing at all like the rest of the album.
With just enough modern touches to avoid being a mere nostalgia exercise, Puppy comes on like a fresh breath. It isn’t going to change lives, and that’s the best thing about it: It doesn’t want to.