Detroit garage trio the Hentchmen have been in business for 12 years, starting back when many of the current spate of garage rockers were still in shortpants. In other words, they’ve been cool since long before garage was cool again (even though it was never NOT cool, ya know?). And they’ve done it by following the most important rule of garage: Keep It Simple, Stupid. With only a drumkit, guitar, and Farfisa organ (played by Mike Latulippe, Tim Purrier, and John Szymanski, respectively), the Hentchmen prove that straightforward, fun rock will never go out of style. The band’s latest, Form Follows Function captures everything that’s right with garage.
The Hentchmen aren’t a gimmick band and they don’t, based on band photos in the liner notes, boast a hipper-than-thou wardrobe, but the bandmembers know that what matters most is the music coming out of the speakers. Admittedly, Form Follows Function sounds a little cleaner than the band’s earlier efforts, but they still sound like the house band that would be playing at the coolest house party you can imagine (you know, the one where the kicked keg gets thrown into the pool and everyone stays up til dawn). There’s not a slow or somber track on Form Follows Function, and if not for the Forty Fives’ High Life High Volume, FFF could be the garage party album of the year.
But back to the wonders of simplicity. Sonically, the band could have time traveled from 1965—witness Purrier’s chiming guitar on “Love”, the jangle of “Bewfre the Dog”, Szymanski’s friendly Farfisa on all the songs. Too, the band is more jangly than fuzzed-out; the Hentchmen are not a snide-sounding rock band. They rock for three upbeat minutes, then bound to the next song. Thematically, as well, the band has a wide-eyed innocence that I associate with both simplicity and ‘60s garage. It’s a claim I’ve made in past reviews, and it’s one I’ll make again: The Dictators’ Dick Manitoba summed up the entire garage scene in 1975 when he noted that “There’s nothing else in this crazy world except for cars and girls.” The Hentchmen are clearly familiar with the Gospel According to Manitoba: Lead singer Szymanski recounts a fifth grade crush on “Love”, advocates the literal hosing down of smokin’ hot chicks on “Waterer Down” (genial lines like “Call the V.F.D.!” makes the song less prurient than my description makes it seem), and namechecks a few life-shaping car movies on “Cars on Film” (Bullitt, The French Connection, Gone in 60 Seconds [“not the remake”]). The band also delves into the mystery that is the female mind on “All About Girls”: “Do they care about cars or guitars?” The question is never answered.
The few non-girl or -car related tracks also show that the band problems are goofy. “Thief on Bicycle” casts aspersions on the titular character for stealing a VCR and a penny jar (crime is crime, but a bicycle-riding thief toting a VCR and a lot of change is funny); on the closing track, “Safe at Home”, Szymanski battles a temporary bout of agoraphobia (“I didn’t wanna mingle with the people you meet”). In all, life seems pretty good for the Hentchmen, and that contentment trickles down into their songs.
I mentioned that Form Follows Function is a cleaner-sounding album compared to their earlier efforts; true as that may be, the album is no slick, over-produced affair. A few effects get tossed in the mix, but by and large, it’s just three guys and their instruments. With all the studio trickery too many bands employ these days, an album like Form Follows Function, where a band does a simple thing like rock out the right way (that is, with minimal bells and whistles) is a breath of fresh air. If you’re like me, and you believe a garage-rock album’s primary function is to rock, then the Hentchmen have mastered the form necessary to meet that goal.
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