This strip is angry and dense for a reason. I fell in love with Fishbone at 18, and not long after that they imploded. What seemed like jubilant ska gave way to schizoid metal and bloated track listings. But once upon a time, I liked them enough to transcribe the lyrics to “Party At Ground Zero (Pink Vapor Stew)”. Knowing the words to that song was like having the goddamn Enigma code.
The first Fishbone EP is great. Their first album, In Your Face, tones down the ska energy for a heavier funk-rock mode. Holy mackerel, does it ever work. They picked up the pace again with the following EP, It’s A Wonderful Life (Gonna Have A Good Time). The rest of the tape is a mixed bag, but the title track is fucking legendary. Let there be no confusion; I heard this song before I saw the movie it’s named after, and when I did, I was disappointed.
I had the next album, Truth and Soul, for years until some fucker stole it. This was the one with “Bonin’ In The Boneyard” on it, which, if memory serves, was made even better when remixed for a 1990 EP called Set The Booty Up Right. I never successfully got my hands on a copy, I think because I was a tape hater at the time, and Fishbone EPs generally showed up on cassette (vinyl too, but that was more expensive). You have to understand, towards the end of the cassette’s life, it was something we used grudgingly.
In 1991, Fishbone peaked with The Reality Of My Surroundings, a varied, powerful album. I could post links to this monster all day, but if I had to pick a standout, there is no question it would be “Behavior Control Technician”. BEHOLD:
How do you even react to that? It makes my hair stand on end. The band sounds like they’re pushing through a full-scale riot. The singer is manhandled and pulled by angry, unseen hands, as he screams and cries. Fishbone were the masters of their own unique sonic territory. There’s the proof.
The album also features “Babyhead”, which my 19-year-old self considered to be sophisticated bedroom music. It really isn’t. It’s still a terrific live track, however, and apparently “flying fish” (moshers jumping from the stage to crowdsurf) were so common at Fishbone shows, the band had to tell them to cut it out. “Sunless Saturday” was a huge hit, and I swear at the time it was one of the loudest freaking things I’d ever heard. I’ve never been able to part with this album, and I don’t know what kind of evil adhesive was used for the PARENTAL ADVISORY sticker on the front, but it cannot be removed, even with a blowtorch or laser. I’ve owned this for nearly a quarter-century, and I’m still kind of salty about it.
I would compare Fishbone at this point to Maggot Brain-era Parliament, but it’s a high that didn’t last. 1993’s Give A Monkey A Brain And He’ll Swear He’s The Center Of The Universe is, to quote Evan Dorkin, “a stinker”. The opening track, “Swim”, is a decent sludge-rocker about the aforementioned “flying fish”, and “Servitude” ramps up the tempo with sharp guitar shredding, but it’s pretty weak after that. They come close to former glory on the positively Funkadelic “Properties Of Propaganda”, though:
I’ve never heard any Fishbone albums after this. The cover of Chim Chim’s Badass Revenge (1996) looked cheap to me, so I didn’t check it out. Turns out my intuition was correct; the record has been criticized for its low-quality mix. Producer Dallas Austin reportedly wanted to take Fishbone to the mythical “next level”, as Rick Rubin did with Red Hot Chili Peppers (whenever that happened). Only an asshole would hatch a plan like that. Assholes often find financial success as music producers. Phil Spector, for example.
There are a handful of 21st-century Fishbone albums, but they mostly have lengthy names that are impossible to remember or keep straight, and the covers are clumps of Photoshopped excess. I’ve never seen one in person, so for all I know they could be brilliant stuff. But the more guys you have in a band, the more drama there is, and Fishbone had more than plenty.
“The track “V.T.T.L.O.T.F.D.G.F.” stands for “Voyage to the Land of the Freeze-Dried Godzilla Farts”, as confirmed on the band’s website, and is about a government attempt to convince the public that Hiroshima was actually caused by Godzilla farting.”
I had been wondering about this for 25 years.