THERE'S A certain kind of music that defies any attempt at intellectualization, where dancing is the only appropriate response. So it is with the Fleshtones, a hyperkinetic New York band that asks nothing more of us than to have a wild time.
The 'Tones have been kicking around New York clubs since 1976, gradually refining their course, gritty music through two albums--one is only available on cassette--and an E.P. The net product is a tight, exuberant sound that can best be described as "Louie, Louie" on drugs. Their newest album, Hexbreaker, continues this happy trend.
Like their musical brethren, the Romances and the Cramps, the Fleshtones ransack almost everything in rock'n roll history from Little Richard and James Brown to Motown and "Nuggets" period psychedelic garage rock Vocalist Peter Zaremba--who on stage makes Mick Jagger look like Perry Como--yells his "yeah, yeah"s and "hey, hey"s with more gusto than anybody since the Kingsmen, and with just as much humor.
Most of the time, the Fleshtones do not take themselves too seriously, though on occasion Zaremba will launch into some sort of diatribe about the state of America. This is the Fleshtones at their worst, the tepid liberalism of 1981's "R-I-G-T-S"--off Roman Gods--or Hexbreaker's "New Scene": "Phony society, we reject your false values." Ho hum. "Get off my back. Let me do what I wanna do." So what?
But these are only minor lapses in a surprisingly consistent and strong body of music. Hexbreaker does not take any major leaps form their last record. Roman Gods, but rather intensifies the more danceable elements of the 1981 album. The new album's title track recalls the title track from Roman Gods and the 1980 E.P. Up-Front's "Theme from 'The Vindicators'" in its chants, yells, catchy hooks, and funky Gordon Spaeth saxophone.
In the song "Hexbreaker", the Fleshtones lay down a groove and play it to the hilt with call-and-response vocals, wild sex and harmonica by Spaeth, maniacal bass playing by the gangly Marek Pakulski, and a lot of cheerleading by Zaremba: "We always stay cool. We like it that way."
The Fleshtones also pull some catchy melodies out of their musical bag. "Deep in My Heart," with its ubiquitous "cheesy" Farfisa and Zaremba's mock crooning matches Romans Gods's "Hope Come Back" for hook quotient, while the mockingly stupid "Screamin Skull" competes with the Cramps' "Human Fly" for pure schlock brilliance.
"Want!" adds a few "Sha, la, la"s and some gonzo, fuzzed-out Fender-bending by Keith Streng, and one forgets that almost 20 years separate the "Tones from the Barbarians, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and? and the Mysterians--from which they claim their musical heritage. Thus, some cry, the Fleshtones aren't revolutionary--legated the Kinks and Rod Stewart to embarrassing obsolescence and has embraced every now British import as a heaven-sent message.
But these critics are wrong, as the Zaremba and the boys put most of the new-fangled synth-pop bands to shame. What the Fleshtones show us is that New Wave is no more than a return, to a time before rock only made sense when the listener was heavily drugged (read: "Stairway to Heaven," "Free Bird," etc.).
For every Human League "Fascination" (1983) there is a Standells "Dirty Water" (1966) or a? and the Mysterians "96 Tears" (1966). And for every Duran Duran there is a Fleshtones to remind us what rock 'n' roll is supposed to be about--that is, cheesy Farfisas, three chords, a few "Sha, la, la'"s, and at least one "hey, hey, hey."