The Fucking Champs

IV; Drag City Records

The number 4 is rock & roll shorthand for "we mean business." Traditionally, bands make their grandest, most all-encompassing musical statements on albums bearing a 4, or some variation thereof, in the title. Black Sabbath's Vol. 4 reveals the Birmingham Bruisers at their most overpowering ("Supernaut") and touchy-feely ("Changes"). Led Zeppelin's IV/ZOSO epitomizes the supergroup's pretentious overreaching for artistic credibility in the FM staple/albatross "Stairway to Heaven." Songs from Foreigner's mullet-rock classic 4 still provide the bulk of their current live show at state fairs nationwide

Now the Fucking Champs have made their bid for rock immortality with their own IV, an album so ridiculously fantastic that 4 and all its alternative symbols should be officially retired as an album name and hung from the rafters of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The Champs have honed the idea of 4 down to its very essence: the guitar riff. Jettisoning lyrics almost entirely (only the last song, "Extra Man," has vocals), the Champs utilize a vast array of guitars and electronic effects to create 12 brilliant variations on the theme of guitar instrumentals.

"What's a Little Reign?" and "These Glyphs Are Dusty" feature twin-guitar sparring so complex and intertwined that the songs draw comparisons to Metallica's Master of Puppets heyday of time-signature travel, but the Champs' Josh Smith and Tim Green somehow put to shame Messrs. Hetfield and Hammett's finest moments. Hetfield and Hammett may display more pure speed, but Smith and Green artfully layer riff upon riff, building to a crescendo of sound and fury that's never drowned in the mix under a layer of vocals.

Smith and Green also demonstrate a wider emotional and musical range than the flash and roar guitar instrumentals are known for. "Policenauts" is a strangely engaging rush of treated guitar runs that should have been on the soundtrack for the horribly entertaining sci-fi fiasco Tron. "Lamplighter" is an oasis of mellotron, piano and "various birds of flight" that leads into the majestic ber-rock opera of "Thor Is Like Immortal."

Perhaps most impressive of all, the Champs reveal the secrets of their IV in the liner notes. Every technical element, from the tape used to the dimensions of their guitar picks, is listed in the sort of detail that subscribers to Guitar World will find pornographic. It is as if the Champs have thrown down the gauntlet, challenging all other bands to attempt to top them. It can't be done. The Fucking Champs have slain the idea of another IV forever.

 
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