CD Review of Take a Good Look by Fleshtones
Recommended if you like
Ramones, Television,
The Flamin’ Groovies
Fleshtones: Take a Good Look

Reviewed by Mojo Flucke, PhD


he Fleshtones – so ancient they once shared a practice space with the Cramps, according to their label – are back with a new album, bashing it out as they have year after year since they formed three decades and a couple of years ago. It's hard to imagine these old rockers keeping it up, but they have yet to leave off the accelerator at any point in their long history. On this record, it's more of the same: from lead singer Peter Zaremba's opening screech on "First Date (Are You Coming on to Me)" through the whole damned record, these guys pound out deliberately low-tech grooves that should get any true rock fan's blood pumping like the first morning cup of coffee the day after the Stones concert. Lots of handclaps, funky '60s-sounding keyboards (I don't even want to know where the spacey effect came from in "Jet Set Fleshtones," as long as it's never heard again), and driving drum backbeats fuel the 'Tones trademark ragged guitars and vocals – no finer than "Going Back to School," where a call-and-response chorus is so cacophonously bad, it's good.

But it's not just about the rock. Beneath the fuzzy surface of the Fleshtones' guitar distortion and hopelessly reverbed vocals (see the opening strains of "Jet Set Fleshtones," again), there are catchy hooks that you'll be singing in the shower. "Ruby's Old Time" will etch itself in your memory (along with a keyboard solo that clearly is a tribute to Del Shannon's "Runaway"). Crank "New York City" and its scream-along verses in your car sitting at traffic lights, and the high schoolers pumping Eminem in the next lane over might dial 911 out of genuine fear. "Never Grew Up" might not have a memorable hook per se, but its visceral snarl reminds us how this band came of age in that seminal East Coast proto-punk scene some time after the Stooges and before the Misfits. For the record, they debuted at CBGBs in 1976. How can you go wrong? Really.

This pop-edged punk (or punk-edged pop, however you see it) is a great tradition, from the Sonics, the Ramones and early Tom Petty to goofy posers like the Knack or the Romantics – and even their evil twins, the Godfathers. To wit: Basic guitars, fakey organs, and simple choruses. Some people carry the torch of antique politics, some people join the Society for Creative Anachronism and walk around in bizarre medieval garb, and the Fleshtones keep alive the still-obscure tradition of the early-'80s power-pop revolution predicated on even more obscure 1960s records. Sounds crazy, but this old stuff sounds just as fresh and melodically delicious as it did the first time(s) around. In 2008, the Fleshtones aren't just the Fleshtones anymore; they're the perfect antidote to Timbaland joints, electronic club mixes, YouTube overload and reality TV. In short, you're nuts to skip over this record unless you're already lost to today’s reprocessed digital McLoops.

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