In the late '60s, Vanilla Fudge was best listened to while smoking pot. How else could a band named after an ice cream flavor seem so downright meaningful? Even now, after all these years and without the benefit of a bong, the band's records hold up. This music had weight, but it didn't have bombast. It had serious aspirations, yet it could make you laugh. It had roots in classic rock, soul and the pop hits of the '50s and '60s, yet it was tailor-made for the increasingly commercialized "underground" radio of its day. It never met a song that couldn't be stretched out to two or three times its natural length, but it didn't waste any time on extraneous instrumental noodling.
Vanilla Fudge specialized in covers. The biggest success for the Fudge was a version of the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On," slowed to a crawl with auspicious Hammond organ tones, screeching guitar lines and a sludge-like rhythm steadfastly refusing to hint at either the spunk or the funk of the original. The band applied this formula to the Beatles, Donovan, Junior Walker & the All-Stars, Dionne Warwick -- anything poppy enough in the original to provide a hook for their stoned audience to grasp.
Last year three of the four members of Vanilla Fudge got back together (with a new keyboardist of virtually identical musical style) and released a comeback album, The Return. Most of the songs are re-recordings of concert favorites from the old days. While these same-but-different cuts are enjoyable as ever, the best ideas here are brand new, such as renditions of "Tearin' Up My Heart" by *NSYNC and "I Want It That Way" by the Backstreet Boys. The heavying up of teen-pop works perfectly and could easily sustain a full album if these guys feel like trying it. Bring on Britney, Madonna, Christina, et al. Vanilla Fudge is ready to rock the hits again.
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