When a band has been making music for 40 years, it’s wrong to label their sound “retro.” On their new album The Band Drinks for Free, their seventh with Yep Roc, The Fleshtones aren’t paying tribute to the raw rock ‘n’ roll of bygone days. They’re making fresh, raw rock ‘n’ roll, 12 songs and 37 minutes of it, starting from the first number, the dark, organ-fueled “Love Like a Man.”
If that first song evokes ? and the Mysterians, the Standells, and the Pretty Things, the howling harmony vocals of “Love My Lover” suggest a proto-Guns N’ Roses kick. There’s a touch of glam-rock in the driving beat of the fabulously named “Rick Wakeman’s Cape.” “Respect Our Love” uses a grimy patina of minor-key slow-punk Americana to create a mood that harks back to the starkness of Jefferson Airplane – if Leslie West had been one of their lead singers. The gloriously out-of-key counter-theme of “Living Today” and the Johnny Thunders noise-rock rave-up of “Too Many Memories” bask in a loose raunch that’s a joy to hear from a band with 20-plus albums already to its credit.
“I remember being told the sun would burn out one day,” they sing in “Stupid Ol’ Sun”: “I was not too worried…I’m just trying to keep my head, keep from losing my mind…I’ll kick and I’ll scream…I want to outlive the rocks and stones and just about everyone.” Outlive just about everyone? They already have.
“The Sinner” reaches back into the elemental blues that underlies rock ‘n’ roll, with imagery to match: “I’m just waiting for the sunrise…drinking alone, nothing but a cigarette to warm me.” No trendy vaping or hipster hats here.
One of my favorite tracks is the shiny yet rough-edged ’60s-style pop anthem “How to Make a Day.” And the album closes with another winner, the plaintive “Before I Go”: “Anybody gonna help me out and drink with me tonight?”
I’m there, dude. With two original members, and a stable lineup for over 25 years now, the Fleshtones, who began their journey in Queens in the 1970s, are drinking companions for the ages. Even if you can’t smoke in bars anymore.