Music Reviews
Fu Manchu

Fu Manchu

The Return of Tomorrow

At The Dojo Records

Suzy and I spent that lazy, late afternoon watching the tube. The Huntington Pier had been crowded, the rip current flags shredding as clouds were moving in. We bolted to home base. Suzy was fixing the vertical hold when the doorbell rang, Fu Manchu’s The Return of Tomorrow propped against my sandy, salty thongs.

Their template has shapeshifted across the decades, but not by much. One writer speculated young Bryan Ferry had a most glorious vision, a dream so vivid that his vocation became recapturing that mystery with music. Scott Hill, Fu Manchu’s sole founding member, surely had as powerful an epiphany. However, his was an Orange County, CA, daydream melding Nimoy’s In Search Of series, muscle cars, blue tile fever, and a funhouse mirror reflection of a bygone Southern California mythos. And in 2024, the template is intact, the dream still being realized.

Distorted, dropped D and C riffs, 4/4 drumming with purposeful, punctuated fills, bass lines complementing the thrust to interstellar, overdriven solos. What’s so special here is the X-acto production and Fu Manchu’s reserve in contrast to other desert/stoner bands. Scott Hill’s singing is another fixture. If those Bigfoot stomps weren’t immediately recognizable, though they always are, Hill’s authoritative thumbnail sketches remain as unmistakable as John Garcia’s were with Kyuss, but without the gravel. Likewise, Hill opts out of the boogie-coochoo histrionics of Josh Homme; the sexiness is found in conventions that do not wilt. Hell, Hill evokes the Nuge!

Fu Manchu are very Fast Times at Ridgemont High, sans Damone. In their OP shirts and weathered Vans, the fixations on astrology or grinding gears further a return to tomorrow. Speaking of which, the title track scorches. Besides the expected power chords punch is the maracas in the right speaker, double-tracked vocals, an unexpected head fake at the the two-minute mark, deep breath, then galloping drums and a Ramones-ish chant of “the return of tomorrow.”

A few songs suggest the thrash of early ’80s Beowulf or the sludge of Sabbath, but there’s no gloom or doom. Blistering pavement and overheated engines are revered and the speaker-shaking “Hands of the Zodiac’’ alludes to ESP or eventual admissions of our government’s first contact. Somehow ZZ Top meets Jealous Again-era Black Flag and not the hardcore of Damaged or jazzy signatures Loose Nut aspired to. Worth noting, though, Hill plays a clear Ampeg Dan Armstrong Plexi. See also Greg Ginn.

“Destroyin’ Light” features ridiculously perfect panning of heavily and tightly phased fuzztones. I started thinking about boogie vans and Camaros and clean machines. “Loch Ness Wrecking Machine” is about the technique. My favorite track is “Solar Baptized” – “ancient grace” – a gurgling synth buried in the mix and an extended jam approximating their longer cuts on Clone of the Universe. Let’s get gone, real gone.

Though this album is all originals, Fu Manchu’s amazing covers over the years include tunes by JFA, Van Halen, The Cars, Thin Lizzy, and Devo and Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla.” The template is flexible and comforting in its familiarity. This is freedom rock for when you’re zonked out on the sofa or driving fast with the windows down.

The philosophies wafting from Fu Manchu’s VW bus include self-reliance, the adrenaline rush of skateboarding in an empty pool before Mike Muir’s mom finds out, squinting at the Pacific sunset, and finding the sweet spot on the horizon of Southern California’s idealistic paean to feeling good as it raises its head up from the surf.

Fu Manchu


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