The Flaming Sideburns: The Flaming Sideburns Save Rock 'N' Roll
This late into 2002, you'd think the ever-growing number of Scandinavian rock bands that have been heavily hyped Stateside has reached its saturation point. However, there's one more great little band Jetset Records wants you to get acquainted with. According to members of bands like the Hives, the Hellacopters, and the Soundtrack of Our Lives, the Flaming Sideburns are a band that totally deserves any attention they can muster over here, and like the best of what that part of the world has to offer, they fully intend to rock your friggin' world, and nothing more.
It's probably safe to assume that the Flaming Sideburns are unlike any other band in the world today: what other Finnish rock band fronted by an Argentinean singer who sings in both English and Spanish is there? And where the Hives have the Stones-style stage presence down, the Soundtrack of Our Lives delve into '60s psychedelia, and Sahara Hotnights do a cool Swedish version of the Runaways, the Flaming Sideburns want to be like the Stooges, very badly. High octane, ferocious, meat-and-potatoes rock 'n' roll is what these boys deliver, and like New York's Mooney Suzuki, they pepper their '60s garage sound with small helpings of '60s soul. And if that's not enough, they have bandmembers with names such as "The Punisher" and "Johnny Volume". I mean, what's not to like about that?
But what about that new album of theirs? Their North American debut, The Flaming Sideburns Save Rock 'N' Roll, contrary to what we might think over here, is far from their first release. With a couple of albums and a wealth of single releases already under their belts, the band are hardly newcomers, and you can hear it on this album. Opening with singer Eduardo Martinez mimicking a Spanish soccer broadcast (complete with "GOOOOOOLLL!"), "Loose My Soul" is a perfect party tune, with Martinez in full Iggy mode. Quality rockers abound on the album, as "Blow the Roof" (with Spanish verses and an English chorus), "World Domination" (which sounds lifted from AC/DC's Let There Be Rock album), "Street Survivor", and especially the raucous "Spanish Blood", threaten to push the limits of your speakers. And that's all well and good; everybody needs to rock out every once in a while, and these guys do a great job, but there's one song on the album so different, so perfect, that you wind just stop what you're doing, and think, in amazement, "Now what the heck was that?"
"Flowers" is one of those songs you live for as a fan of rock 'n' roll, a from-out-of-nowhere, miraculous moon-shot that make you think, "why can't they sound like this on the entire record?" For three glorious, but tragically short, minutes, the Flaming Sideburns stop imitating the Stooges and dip into Lou Reed territory, making the song sound perfectly like an outtake straight from the Velvet Underground's Loaded sessions. With an absurdly simple three chord progression, overdubbed layers of lush, wispy-light solo harmonies throughout (much like "Sweet Jane"), "Flowers" is one of those lazy, dreamy, gorgeous songs that the Velvets specialized in late in the band's brief history. Martinez, meanwhile, totally nails the Lou Reed-circa 1969 voice; when he sings "New York City / You're my kind of town," he is Lou Reed. The similarity is impeccable, and this knockout tune is one of the best songs this reviewer has heard all year.
A handful of songs also veer away from the Stooges formula a bit, like the Stax-era, Mooney Suzuki-sound of "Sweet Sound of L.U.V.", "Stripped Down" (the closest thing to a ballad), and desolate, Ventures-sound of "Lonesome Rain", but as good as they are, they don't come close to matching "Flowers". If The Flaming Sideburns Save Rock 'N' Roll didn't contain that incredible fourth track, you'd think the Flaming Sideburns were nothing more than a good, honest, straightforward, testosterone band, but "Flowers" changes everything. Is the song a total fluke, or are they capable of more magic? The album is a fine, fine effort, but is ultimately undermined by the promise that "Flowers" hints at, and one can't help but think that the rest of the album should have been as great. For now, though, we'll have to settle for a good album instead of a great one. The Flaming Sideburns might not have completely succeeded in saving rock music, but like their fellow Scandinavian brethren (and sisters), at least they're trying, which is more than I can say for most North American bands out there.