Whose Rock is Fireball Ministry?

There’s no denying that Hollywood rockers Fireball Ministry have, with their new self-titled on Restricted Release, crafted their most commercial album yet. They were never especially defiant in this regard before, but Fireball Ministry takes the band’s proven songwriting ability (a quick run through 1999’s Ou est la Rock? or 2003’s The Second Great Awakening should be enough to make you aware of their obvious chops in this regard) to new heights of accessibility, carrying across the otherwise unpretentious rocking material with a digital sheen only possible in this age of recording technology.

The centerpiece of Fireball Ministry’s attack has always been guitarist/vocalist James A. Rota. Working here with producer Andrew Alekel (Fu Manchu, The Company Band’s full-length), Rota sounds smoother than ever before on a track like “Fallen Believers,” which plunks along at mid-pace without ever really getting spirited or dynamic, or “Thought it Out,” which seems to reach in the direction of Fu Manchu-styled Californian fuzz but ultimately stops just short of pop-punk fluffery. The drums of John G. Oreshnick sound triggered, Johnny Chow’s bass is barely there, and Emily J. Burton, who provides backing vocals and guitar, seems to be resting almost entirely in line behind Rota’s riffing where some contrast between the two players would do a lot to add character to the material.

There is material on Fireball Ministry that hits with some impact, though. “Followed by a Fall” remains relatively un-neutered by the production it’s given, and “Butcher, Faker, Policy Maker” is such catchy and well-composed pop rock that it could have been recorded in a tin can and it would still be memorable. It’s not so much a question of the songs feeling uninspired or not accomplishing something creatively – and there shouldn’t be any doubt this is the record the band intended to make; Rota’s been heading Fireball Ministry for well over a decade now, and Restricted Release is owned by CKY’s Jess Margera (also Rota’s bandmate in supergroup The Company Band), so one doesn’t imagine there were tight deadlines or restrictions from that direction – but they’re simply lacking the punch that a more rock-centric production could have given them. Certainly they have nowhere near the weight they must carry in a live setting.

Fireball Ministry hits its low point late in the album with the ill-advised semi-ballad “Sleeping with Angels,” which takes what might in another context be a nifty guitar lick and some Southern flavor and wholly spoils them by simply going nowhere. I feel at a loss, because I’m a Fireball Ministry fan. I’ve enjoyed them live and even though 2005’s Their Rock is Not Our Rock didn’t blow my mind, I still thought it was a good album, but Fireball Ministry feels forgettable and flat. By the time we get to closer “In Their Own Right” – is that pitch correction on the chorus vocals? – I don’t even want to know what’s left to say for the album. There were a few relative high points and plenty that will no doubt remind of Fu Manchu’s own regrettable deviation into outright commerciality with 2004’s Start the Machine.

As I said, I’m coming from a place of being a Fireball Ministry fan, so my disappointment with Fireball Ministry, the album, is a fan’s disappointment. I don’t know what the reasoning behind amping up the band’s pop nature could have been – and I refuse to speculate or to call them sellouts since I doubt very much anyone was standing over them with a bag of money waiting for them to “go pop” — but at least to my ears, it hasn’t worked at all to the songs’ benefit, which at the end of the day is what it’s all about. And even if they were after a little cash, who could blame them after 13 years? I’d be interested to hear a song like “End of Story” or “Common Enemy,” on which Rota tries for a gruffer vocal approach, live, where their abiding catchiness could be presented in a less polished manner, but as it stands on the album, it’s a bummer to say because Rota has been exceedingly cool every time I’ve interviewed him, but Fireball Ministry is an unfortunate pass.

Fireball Ministry on MySpace

Restricted Release

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One Response to “Whose Rock is Fireball Ministry?”

  1. Bill Goodman says:

    Yeah, I wasn’t to thrilled with the album either. I, as a fan as well, was disappointed with the album too. I don’t think this album is going to get many replays from me. Maybe it didn’t have that “underground” sound that many of the bands we listen to have.

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