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Fishbone

From the first funky track (“Shakey Ground”) on the new Fishbone album, Psychotic Friends Nuttwerx, there’s a sneaky notion that somehow this labyrinthine-titled disc is going to pay tribute to Sly & the Family Stone (even though it’s a remake of an old Temptations hit). That assumption is confirmed three songs later, when the veteran ska/punk/pop/etc. band (now in its 21st year) tosses out a faithful cover of Sly’s “Everybody Is a Star.” It’s slinky, stylish, and on the money. And like everything else Fishbone does, it’s a bit overcooked.

Years ago, before every L.A.-based high school band geek packed his horn and headed to the clubs to work up some ska for a public that never knew it wanted it in the first place, Fishbone was hitting those same venues, combining funk, punk, blues, jazz, rock, and ska for a tasty and freewheeling stew. Over the years it amassed quite a cult. Some of those fans—Gwen Stefani, George Clinton, Rick James, Perry Farrell, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, John Frusciante, and Chad Smith—even turn up on Nuttwerx (as does, and I swear I’m not making this up, Donny Osmond). But even with these heavy hitters going to bat for them, there’s something a bit empty about Fishbone.

It quite possibly has a lot to do with the fact that Fishbone is best in small doses. Two EPs by the band, 1985’s self-titled debut and 1990’s Bonin’ in the Boneyard, capture what Fishbone does best: quick and often random bursts of noise, stitched together into a post-punk party monster jam. Subsequent records by the band sharpened its pop proficiency (which led to a couple modern rock hits in the pre-Nevermind era) before it developed into a multi-instrument, multi-genred funk machine akin to Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic (note the rambling title, and this isn’t the first instance of such) or Clinton’s muse—yes, Sly Stone. That’s made for some pretty serious funkin’, but some wildly erratic listens. And Nuttwerx is no different.

 
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