Friday Full-Length: Fu Manchu, King of the Road

Posted in Bootleg Theater on December 25th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

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“Hell on Wheels” fades in its riff like motors in the distance. “Over the Edge” pushes on-the-beat uptempo fuzz starts and stops and a signature chorus ahead of “Boogie Van,” which at this point just reads like anFu Manchu King of the Road aesthetic blueprint for how to be stoner rock. I still get records with vans on the cover, if not weekly, then certainly more than once a month. The title-track and “No Dice” follow in succession, letting the long-hold wah kick in on “Blue Tile Fever” for a grittier, almost winding feel on a straight-ahead chug worthy of the cowbell that offsets it. The centerpiece of the original disc, “Blue Tile Fever” also caps the first platter of the 2LP version of King of the Road that Fu Manchu released on their own At the Dojo imprint in 2015, and thinking about it as a closer makes sense with its long fade and the way “Grasschopper” picks up the pace again, mirroring the energy with which “Hell on Wheels” (it’s no big deal, but yeah, it is) starts off the album as a whole. Learn something new all the time.

But as much as the first half of King of the Road is utterly unfuckwithable, the second answers right back. “Grasschopper” careens into the roll-rock storytelling of “Weird Beard,” which are three and a half of the best minutes you’ll spend on just about any day, while “Breathing Fire”‘s speedier thrust dirties up the fuzz a bit but is all about velocity, which is a great setup for “Hotdoggin’,” a song which reminds that this was the era in which Brant Bjork also started his solo career with 1999’s Jalamanta (reissure review here; discussed herealso here), the vision of laid back mellow-heavy that pervades the penultimate cut on King of the Road having the same kind of open-vibe start-stop funk foundation — and Davis‘ bassline; damn — as would become a hallmark of Bjork‘s work on his own. It’s a different close from “Blue Tile Fever,” but follows the pattern of being a little longer than the songs before it, and of course there’s “Freedom of Choice” as a kind of thanks-for-coming bonus inclusion.

Fu Manchu covers are a special kind of joy all on their own, and “Freedom of Choice” is a right-on pick, ending King of the Road with a groove and a hook that could’ve just as easily come from the band themselves as from Devo. As with many of the songs they’ve taken on over the years, from Blue Öyster Cult and Black Flag to The Cars to the version of The Doobie Brothers‘ “Takin’ it to the Streets” that appeared on their 2020 EP, Fu30, Pt?.?1 — part two of which was doubtless interrupted by canceled tour plans — their taste and the sense of fun they bring to whatever they’ve Fu‘ed up over time has always been impeccable.

Don’t get me wrong, I frickin’ love any number of Fu Manchu albums. I’m not gonna say a bad word about them, even the commonly-slagged Start the Machine, which’ll close out a week around here sooner or later I’m sure, is catchy as hell. But King of the Road is a standout even among the golly-that’s-sumpin’-special batch that is their entire discography, and as always, I hope you enjoy this revisit.

Thanks for reading.

Xmas morning, and yeah, I do consider writing about the Fu a present to myself. It’s just past 6AM now, and The Pecan has started to stir. I got up at 4:15. I’ve been doing the 4AM thing all week to work on the Quarterly Review, which has only sucked because he was up before 6 three days this week, thereby torpedoing my ability to get more done. Also since preschool isn’t happening, it’s required I take work time from The Patient Mrs. — who has very diplomatically not told me to fuck myself for doing a Quarterly Review the week of Xmas — which I am generally loath to do if I can avoid it.

It’s been a rough week. It’s been a rough couple months. Rough year? I don’t know. Virtual preschool. Come on. And nothing until Jan. 4 except sitting around and thinking about plague numbers. What the hell. No break from it. My brain. Pills.

We’re going north today, I think, to Connecticut to see The Patient Mrs.’ family. I’m not really pro-out of state travel at this point, but screw it. The only place I’ve been in the last five days that had any people whatsoever was Shop-Rite on Wednesday, which was legitimately crowded, but I haven’t started to show symptoms so I’m guessing I’ve once again emerged from a packed produce department covid-free. Unless you count fatigue as a symptom, which has become a running gag with my daddy-to-a-toddler self. I honestly don’t care anymore. I’m tired of it. Set my lungs on fire. Kill my ass. At least then I won’t be around to listen to myself complain about nothing or feel useless.

In any case, I can’t honestly say if there were three bands — or two, or one — playing Saint Vitus Bar tomorrow night I wouldn’t throw caution to the wind and go, so I’m not about to put up an argument against going to see family on what to most people is a special day even if I don’t like the holidays.

Yeah, The Pecan’s up. I can see on the monitor (app on my phone) he just got out of bed and beaned himself walking into the little cubby cut into the wall of his room. Wham. It’s still dark and he’s woozy when he first gets up. Won’t stop him. Nothing does. Kid doesn’t feel pain.

But I’d better go.

New Gimme Show today at 5PM, and special thanks in advance if you share part of your holiday with me by listening. It’s a good one, so I at least have made it hopefully worth your while.

And the Quarterly Review picks up on Monday. That’ll go Monday and Tuesday, then I’m taking Wednesday (and maybe Thursday) to work on my year-end list, then that’ll be up before the end of the week, then the poll results next Saturday and life returns to normal after that. Ha.

Great and safe weekend. If you’re celebrating, don’t be stupid. Don’t forget to hydrate. So important.

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