This formal introduction to Fleshtones includes the delightful “Cold, Cold Shoes” and a handful of retro garage rock numbers with names like “The Girl From Baltimore” and “The Theme From ‘The Vindicators.’” In the early ‘80s, I.R.S. was introducing new bands at a breakneck pace, some of whom stuck (The Police, The Go-Go’s) and most of whom had but one shining moment and soon disappeared into obscurity or the indie label swamp (The Fleshtones, Skafish, The Payola$). “Shoes” is that shining moment for Fleshtones, a tightened-up version of ‘60s garage rock that gets under your skin in a hurry. The rest of Up-Front is good for a one-time jolt of retro rock revival, although you wonder if the band isn’t a one-trick pony. The band’s first full-length album, Roman Gods, proved they could sustain the rock ‘n roll party atmosphere over an entire elpee. Up-Front was later appended to the reissue of Roman Gods, providing an appetizer for that party platter.
Kronomyth 1.0. UNAPOLLOGETIC. With Roman Gods, Fleshtones threw their hat into the center of the garage-rock revival. Listeners, for the most part, threw it back. New wave bands were all the rage in 1981, and old wave acts had to steal the spotlight from The Ramones or The Cramps if they wanted any attention. In a sense, Roman Gods had the odd misfortune of being both outmoded and ahead of its time. Had it been released 15 years later, Fleshtones might have enjoyed the same success as The White Stripes and The Vines—although, here again, those bands understood the importance of a good visual gimmick. The sin of Roman Gods is its lack of a compelling gimmick. If the band had played in roman togas every night, well, maybe they would have enjoyed more success as a novelty act. Those who did tune in for Fleshtones’ debut were treated to a great little party platter of raunch and roll. The opening track, “The Dreg,” is absolutely filthy in the best sense of the word. From there, the band follows the footsteps of “Cold, Cold Shoes” with the likable “I’ve Gotta Change My Life” and continues to deliver the goods for the next thirty minutes. The slick “Hope Come Back” and a sizzling cover of Lee Dorsey’s “Ride Your Pony” are highlights. The band’s only crimes have been arriving underdressed to the first garage rock revival and arriving too early to the second. Musically, they hold up as well as any of their peers. Maybe the world will rediscover Roman Gods some day and pay it the homage it deserves.
Kronomyth 2.0: A BLAST FROM THEIR PAST. The Fleshtones are a study in how not to become a rock star. A year after their debut, which inexplicably featured the band posing as Animal House extras, there still wasn’t a proper followup. So ROIR filled the gap with a 1978 session produced by punk rock impresario Marty Thau (The Ramones, Suicide, New York Dolls, etc.) and featuring early versions of “American Beat,” “Critical List” and “Shadow Line.” A raw-sounding record by design, Blast Off! is in line with the post-Ramones retro-rock revival: gritty, grungy and pretty great. Covers of “Soul Struttin’” and Suicide’s “Rocket U.S.A.” are misfires, but most of these songs deliver the goods, from the surf instrumental of “Atom Spies” to rebel rockers like “Comin’ In-Dead Stick” and “B.Y.O.B.” The problem here isn’t the quality of the songs, but the recordings themselves. For a band that was already cultivating a garage-rock sound, they couldn’t afford to take a step back in sonic fidelity. Unless you completely buy in to the garage rock ethos, Blast Off! will seem like a mixed bag. You get some really good songs at better-than-bootleg quality, but what you really wanted was a proper followup and not reheated leftovers. Of course, people who paid attention to the label (ROIR) and the medium (cassette) probably knew what they were getting; ROIR was better known for bad live recordings of punk bands than anything else. It’s hard to hear Blast Off! today without wondering how the band’s trajectory got sidetracked so quickly. In a perfect world, these tracks would have been polished and served as the world’s introduction to the Fleshtones. Instead, somebody got cold feet, and we got “Cold, Cold Shoes.”
This answered the musical question that everyone was asking in 1988: Whatever happened to The Fleshtones? Okay, well maybe not everyone. Keith Streng, Bill Milhizer and Gordon Spaeth reappeared in another F’in band, Full Time Men, and continued to churn out the psychedelic garage rock that their former band was known for with Your Face My Fist (love that title). The band’s first (and only) full-length album, it reprises the earlier song “I Got Wheels,” updates the tracks “Critical List” and “One More Time,” and antes up another eight foggy, sleazy slices of psychedelic garage rock. It would be easy to dismiss this as a novelty record, except that The Fleshtones weren’t kidding to begin with: garage rock was their chosen milieu. That Full Time Men return to the same garage is no accident, and they didn’t engage Peter Zaremba and Peter Buck just for a lark. Your Face My Fist is a legitimate artifact, a fine addendum to the career of The Fleshtones. “I Got Wheels,” “One More Time (Encore),” “Full Time Men” (which reminds me of the theme to Futurama) and “Critical List” are as good as I’ve heard from The Fleshtones. True, vocals aren’t Keith Streng’s strength, but he does manage to evoke a beastly Eric Burdon, which is exactly what you’d expect to find creeping around in a garage. Since The Fleshtones were hardly a household name to begin with, Full Time Men was only a part-time proposition; like Monks of Doom, “cult” band splinter groups tend to become historical footnotes. Too bad, since Your Face My Fist is a fine garage rock party record, a nod to that serendipitous span of time when rock ‘n rollers didn’t wash their hair and didn’t watch the clock–they played till they got tired. This one is really due for a dusting off; in fact the whole Fleshtones experience is something we should revisit in the future.