Fu Manchu have perfected the art of irreverent rock over the course of their five-album discography. Consecutive albums crammed with cranking riffs, odd lyrical themes and an unadulterated SoCal vibe have revealed a band completely without pretension, inflated egos or a desire to achieve world peace.
At ease with the stoner-rock tag attributed to Fu Manchu, vocalist Scott Hill admits the band watches stupid movies and loves skating and surfing so it follows that the resulting sound isn't going to sound like Radiohead, and that Hill won't be competing with Bono to emulate his efforts as a world statesman.
Yep, Fu Manchu are what they are, but on sixth album California Crossing, it appears they have changed at least a little bit, especially if excellent opening track "Separate Kingdom" is anything to go by. As this incredibly infectious track demonstrates, the crunch and heavy, hip attitude the band has always possessed still remains, but nowadays it's seemingly intertwined with an invigorating sense of melody.
This probably has something to do with the band's own maturity along with their choice of Matt Hyde as producer, who apparently moulded the band into one that remains as left of centre as ever, but one that has a new focus on tighter arrangements, slow burning hooks and a cleaner, fuzz-free sound.
First single "Squash That Fly" is a typically nonsensical tune with the familiar bruising riffing associated with the band together with Scott Hill's unique vocal delivery. "Thinkin' Out Load" is another commercially minded tune in the same vein as "Separate Kingdom", whilst "Wiz Kid" and the instrumental "Wasteoid" varies the pace and tone somewhat.
Drummer Brant Bjork may have amicably left the band in between completion and release of this album, but his thumping drumming is stamped all over the record and especially the no-frills, fast and furious title track. Elsewhere, trademark lyrical themes abound, particularly on "Downtown in Dogtown", written about skateboarding, which reflects the consistently laid back lyrical vibe.
It all adds up to a pleasing, if slightly repetitive album, but there's no doubt that Fu Manchu have delivered an album that improves on previous effort King of the Road and attempts to reach out to a wider fan base without compromising their classic sound.