In 1991, Fu Manchu had no competition for the throne of stoner-rock kings. They sat alone in a cherry airbrushed and bubble-windowed custom van, smoking lids of Acapulco Gold and churning out groovy rock songs about muscle cars, partyin' and custom vans, man. But now a host of other bands are mining the tar pits of the '70s for songs: Acid King, Altamont, Queens of the Stone Age and Nebula, whose three members formed the nucleus of Fu Manchu until 1996. Nebula's semi-major-label debut (To the Center, on Sub Pop) came out in late 1999, and, brother, it rocked better than Fu Manchu's previous effort, The Action Is Go. Nebula vs. Fu Manchu might not be equivalent to the heated Stones-Beatles rivalry of the '60s; in fact, it's more like Cheech vs. Chong. But Fu Manchu leader Scott Hill knows that only one band can wear the bong-rock crown and get the cushy best-friend gig on Nash Bridges, and with the group's new release, King of the Road, he lays claim to the title of Cheech with deafening authority.
Still, King of the Road is nothing fancy, nothing that strays too far from previous albums. But Fu Manchu isn't about reinventing the wheel. Hell, they couldn't invent the wheel. They're a band of hunter-gatherers armed with crude tube amps and crusty racks of flange and wah-wah pedals who stalk the pre-punk primeval forests of rock and roll's Stoner Age, hunting the greatest prey of all: Tyrannosaurus riffs, the mighty beast with the walnut-sized brain whose meaty frame provides sustenance for hordes of denim-clad Cro-Magnon rockers everywhere. The grim truth for Fu Manchu is that if they can't bag enough burly T. riffs, they'll soon be extinct, like Nazareth or Uriah Heep. Fortunately, King of the Road is a happy hunting ground of beefy, bong-rattling RAWK AND ROLLLLL. Scott Hill has penned 10 "new" odes to muscle cars, partyin' and, uh, custom vans, dude.
OK, so the lyrics are as simpleminded as ever, but who cares? "No shirt, no shoes, NO DICE!" might be a pretty lame chorus, but after a couple of keg-stands it becomes high-school smoking-lounge poetry. "Blue Tile Fever" may lack the subtle turns of phrase found in Tom Waits' body of work, but Tom never rocked a cowbell with such savage bravado.
Slip into your old jean jacket, squeeze that beaded headband around your temples and turn up the volume on the greatest unfrozen-caveman-rock album of the century. Nebula, the ball is in your court.
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